Number 07 of my not-quite-resolutions at the start of 2011 reads, “And, if all else fails, read less.” I’ve long ago begun to think that, hell, I could have put in more effort to fulfill that item. This blog would probably less dead that way—see, a lot of books read plus an inability to not talk about each of them, equals Sasha too overwhelmed to actually start chipping away at the backlog.
Yeah. I am so reading less next year. Or, well, maybe buy less so I won’t have to pick up books out of guilt? That’s a plan. Heh.
Let’s get it on. Ahem. One of them books is The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer. Earlier this year, I’d eyed this book like crazy—and eventually gave in, obviously [predictably!]—because, well, I suspect that I am trying to recapture my old fascination on “domestic fiction.” Greer’s novel is practically the poster child: It’s set in post-WW2 America, and it’s about a wife, her beautiful husband, sometimes about her kid, and mostly about the stranger who arrives at her doorstop to disrupt the well-ordered storybook yadda yadda of her life. I used to live for these kinds of stories, haha.
The mundaneness—and, despite the life-altering revelations dropped willy-nilly, to these people, and to the narrative, overall the novel remains mundane—of the topic is buttressed by the quite beautiful prose. The language bewilders, too, since I haven’t recently encountered any contemporary novel that dedicates such painstaking effort to make its words shine. I mean, come on, look at this:
How do you make someone love you? For the very young, there can be nothing harder in the world. You may try as hard as you like: place yourself beside them, cook their favourite food, bring them wine or sing the love songs that you know will move them. They will not move them. Nothing will move them. You will waste days interpreting the simple banalities of a phone call; months staring at their soft lips as they talk; you will waste years watching a body sitting in a chair and willing every muscle to take you across the room and do a simple thing, say a simple word, make them love you and you will not do it; you will waste long nights wondering how they cannot feel this—the urge to embrace, the snow melt in the heart when you are near them—how they can sit in that chair, or speak with those lips, or make a call and mean nothing by it, hide nothing in their hearts. Or perhaps what they hide is not what you want to see. Because surely they love someone. It simply isn’t you.
And, two paragraphs later, it’s this:
To give up a marriage—someone unmarried might imagine it’s like giving up a seat in a theater, or sacrificing a trick in bridge for he possibility of better, later. But it is harsher than anyone could realize: a hot invisible fire, burning pieces of hope and fantasy, and charred bits of the past.
It’s exhausting too, yes, as after a while, the level of concentration required to make the prose go all sparkly only makes it feel self-conscious and self-indulgent. Besides, the narrator was getting whiny. Still eloquent, sure, but whiny. Plus there were broad swathes of nothing happening to both the story and these people’s actual lives. And I wasn’t in a very patient mood.
I felt more indulgent, though, with Darin Strauss’s memoir Half a Life, wherein he recounts having hit a bicycling schoolmate in his youth. It wasn’t his fault, but the guilt sets in, and it’s this guilt—plus dealing with the people around him and the circumstances they roll out that compound this guilt—that is the actual subject of this memoir.
So, well, in many cases, this little book is a long[winded] reflection. You can practically feel Strauss using his writing to make sense of half of his life, which seems like a protracted aftermath of a tragic accident.
Strauss is never unaware that the book has an audience, and he tends to spend valuable time assuring us that he is, at the bottom-line, a nice guy. Anyway. What I’m trying to say is, I guess, is that it was okay, and I didn’t mind. I appreciate the braveness of trying to unravel his story. And, you know, that’s about it for me on that book. Yep.
And then there’s A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James, which opened the author’s series on fairytale-retellings. The second book of the series, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, remains among my favorite romances evahr—though I don’t know if having the original fairytale as my favorite was an influence. I mean, well, Beauty and the Beast has pretty much become romance trope—the conflict each of them brings into the pair, the challenge to get it on. In comparison, what do Cinderella and her Prince Charming actually, well, do? Not much—circumstances throw them together most of the time. No one had any agency in that story, methinks.
James attempts to change that with this romance novel. The heroine is feisty, and far from an abandoned doormat pining for a White Knight in a steed. However, as with the fairytale it pays homage to, the heroine may be vivid, she may be surrounded by a cast of interesting secondary characters, but it is the prince who suffers. Basically, he is matter-of-fact—he never goes beyond being a prince, despite attempts at giving him a life beyond his thrust-to-him title. Matter-of-fact, not unlike their romance. Heh.
The tone is too casual for me, too, a little too frothy and glib—although, to her credit, James pulls this off with the right amount of cheeky self-awareness, which, by the way, I’ve been noticing in the author’s later novels. But, ultimately, it didn’t feel as though there was anything at stake. I think that’s mostly why it was an okay read for me. I mean, ya know me, I want my romance angsty. Stake-y.
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Aaand that’s about it, cobwebby book blog. I do hope to see you again soon. If not, well, there’s about four episodes of Downton Abbey here somewhere. You be good now, y’hear? I’ll try not to buy any more books. Or read any more books. There is always hope.