{time’s a goon}

I MOVED. Moving is exhausting and leaves no time for anything else and I’m never allowed to do it again. Short-term, the best thing that has come of moving so far is that it left me too exhausted to do anything after work today but take a four-hour nap and finally finish Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Now I’m not-at-all-sarcastically thrilled to spend my Friday night updating my blog and pondering the hell didn’t I read this earlier?

Besides being able to check it off my bookmark list of Pulitzer fiction winners, I’m super happy I finally read AVftGS because it was just really, really good. Contradictingly to what I’d originally thought, it’s not really a novel, but a collection of short stories that center around (a LOT) of shared characters. Seriously—there are a lot of them. I didn’t, but I really wanted to make some kind of flowchart to keep track of them. Instead, I’ll probably just read the book over and over again, because it was that good.

I think the main reason I found this collection of stories so good was that they constantly surprised me and somehow simultaneously really made sense. Each chapter is a snippet, a vignette, a moment out of someone’s life that might qualify as a “main character,” or might just be married to a “main character,” or might just have been casually referenced in passing in an earlier chapter and oh look! now they have their own chapter. There’s no immediately discernable rhyme or reason to the order of chapters: they span countries, decades, some even moving into the future. The only thing that seems to concretely unite them is a shared appreciation for music, identity, and time itself, which if that isn’t one of the vaguest things I’ve ever written here, I’m not really sure what is.

In an attempt to collect my thoughts, I’m going to result to one of my weakest (and yet most frequented) blog ploys: the bulleted list.

  • If I wasn’t completely emotionless/my tear ducts worked, I would’ve cried reading “Out of Body.” Love love love.
  • Any author who can tell a thoughtful, emotional, powerful story using PowerPoint slides (“Great Rock and Roll Pauses by Alison Blake”) is worthy of admiration, I think.
  • If I had to decide, I suppose that Sasha—the focus of the opening chapter, “Found Objects”—would be the best candidate for “main character,” by virtue of the fact that she had the most major appearances in other stories and seemed to be the lynchpin of many relationships. I did not find Sasha to be the most interesting character or the one I liked the best, but she was both interesting and favorable. That factor, I think, accounted most for the surprise I mentioned earlier: Each character is mentioned in passing or not even at all, and then all of a sudden they have their own chapter and (after you’ve perplexedly paged back through earlier chapters to try to remember why that name sounds so familiar and where you heard it before) they suddenly have the most interesting story in the world and you can’t quite remember if the whole book isn’t actually about only them.

All bulleted-listing/sleep-deprived ranting aside, I really really do recommend this one. It left me fulfilled, sad, wondering, and anxious—all in the best possible way.

Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?

{whining: or, how i choose to live my life}

You may have noticed that I don’t write a lot of negative reviews here. Quite simply, while I delight in insulting my closest friends and companions, I don’t enjoy slighting strangers—what if they don’t like me?! Also, of course, I have impeccable taste in literature, so negative reviews are largely unnecessary.

Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry may have just given me the opportunity to break this rule.

I read Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife a few years ago, before the movie/it was cool/you had heard of it/etc. I recall being bugged by a few things style-wise, but overall finding it a compelling read. (Though I never did get around to the movie… Nuts.) I had heard several good things about HFS and, when I found it at a thrift store for $1 (along with the similarly priced Running With Scissors and TK The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter), counted it as a win.

The plot of HFS centers mainly around twenty-year-old twin sisters Julia and Valentina. Their mother is also a twin, but has been estranged from her sister for years; the twins don’t remember meeting their aunt. Imagine their surprise, then, when a big fat letter shows up on their Lake Forest doorstep (where they still live with their parents… yikes), informing them that their aunt has died and left them her London flat. Said flat is Highgate cemetery-adjacent, located one floor above the flat of the aunt’s younger, cemetery-obsessed lover, and comes with a few stipulations: Julia and Valentina must live there for at least one year before selling it, and their parents are never to enter the flat.

Weird? Yes. But I love that kind of weird—I love cemeteries, all things British, and confusing last wills and testaments that involve secret family drama. I don’t love age-imbalanced relationships, almost incestuously close siblings, or, ultimately, HFS.

As an example, let’s try this excerpt on for size:

Julia and Valentina Poole walked off the plane and into Heathrow Airport. Their white, patent-leather shoes hit the carpeting in perfect step, with movie-musical precision. They wore white kneesocks, white pleated skirts that ended four inches above their knees, and plain white T-shirts under white woollen coats. Each twin wore a long white scarf and wheeled a suitcase behind her. Julia’s suitcase was pink and yellow terry cloth, and had a Japanese cartoon-monkey face that leered at the people walking behind her. Valentina’s blue-and-green suitcase’s cartoon face was a mouse. The mouse looked both regretful and shy.

The tone is almost saccharinely sweet. And also, blech. The hell is a terry cloth suitcase?

This is also now two for two for me in books with age-imbalanced relationships. At least Running With Scissors made sure to point out how weird and unnatural it was for a 13-year-old boy to be sleeping with a 35-year-old man (or, at least, made sure to point out how weird and unnatural it was that no one seemed to find it weird and unnatural). HFS, however, casually meandered through the twins’ man-adventures, which included their dead aunt’s lover (!!) and a fifty-year-old man with debilitating OCD. The main male objections to these attentions ran along the lines of “Oh no! Feelings! I’m no good for you. I have baggage! Also, I’m way too old for you!” (In case you didn’t catch it, that last objection is crossed out because it didn’t happen.) Blech. I don’t like.

Also—these twins are over twenty years old, dress in the same clothes everyday, and have never spent a night not spooning in the same bed. Is this normal? As a non-twin, have I missed out on an integral part of siblinghood? (If so, I must say I’m relieved.)

I will say this much for HFS: It did not bore me. In fact, when things really started to pick up at the end (geez, I haven’t even mentioned all the ghosts in this book), I became almost incoherently angry at several characters. And to Niffenegger’s credit, she did not even attempt to have a nice, ends-tied-up conclusion for all her warped characters. They backed themselves into corners, monumentally screwed up their own lives and everyone else’s—and Niffenegger said, “Oh well. Your fault!” Karma victory for all!

So there it is. My one negative review so far (at almost exactly a year into this blogging adventure!) and, hopefully, the last one for a while. If you comment on this full of Niffenegger love and hatred for me and everything I say, I promise I will not retaliate. (Unless you are a real-life friend. Then all bets are off.)

{tragicomic}

My friend and coworker suggested Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors, saying something along the lines of “OMG IT IS LAUGH-OUT-LOUD FUNNY, YOU WILL FALL OUT OF YOUR CHAIR.” I read it and . . . didn’t. This is not at all to say that I did not like it—I did. There was just no chair-falling involved in it for me.

Burroughs’s memoir focuses on his childhood and early teen years in Massachusetts. After his parents’ divorce at age 12, he lives briefly with his mother before being more-or-less (and, later, legally) adopted by his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch. The Finch household is truly disgusting, overrun with roaches, feces, and children. Dr. Finch believes that children shouldn’t be told what to do (or where to live) after the age of 13, and brings his family up accordingly. The young Augusten loves smooth hair, shiny coins, and pleated pants, and is at first shocked and repulsed by his new surroundings. Soon, though, he becomes solidly ingrained in the Finch lifestyle, as Natalie Finch becomes his constant companion and Augusten’s mother veers toward complete insanity.

As a memoir, RwS was filled with enough shocking events and crazy characters to make for a real page-turner (I started and finished it in the same day). The tone is dry and extremely self-deprecating; I can sort of see why my friend found it hysterical, but I mainly found it tragic.

Princess Diana was almost like a parallel-universe version of Natalie. A version that didn’t give her first blowjob at eleven, wasn’t traded for cash by her father at thirteen, and didn’t long for a job as a counter girl at McDonald’s.

As quickly as I read it, I didn’t recover quite as fast. Partly because of my friend’s comments, I spent most of the book searching for this unbounded hilarity, and coming up dry. My friend aside, though, this is the kind of book that slaps you in the face and forces a reaction out of you. What it doesn’t do is clarify the appropriate reaction, and this kept me guessing and page-turning throughout the entire book.