Spring Book Reviews: 1 of 3
We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us."—Natalie Goldberg
Loss is a common denominator in these three novels (sorry there’s no pic of the cover of Moshfegh’s novel—a friend borrowed my copy). Loss of a sense of self, of parents, of one’s bearings in a chaotic world.
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION by Ottessa Moshfegh
I don’t remember a book so hotly discussed in our book group. The majority of One Brainers leaned toward the WTF was that all about camp. A couple of us, myself included, wanted to inject the negative comments with some alternative theories. For example, was the nameless narrator and Reva two personalities competing in one body? Hmm. I thought the novel more literary fabulism than taken as a straight-ahead story of one woman’s desire to sleep her way through one year of her life. To what end? Transformation? Part of me wants to reread it for clues. The other, the Reva part of me, wants to let it be. There’s much depravity, self-loathing, a nihilistic nothing really matters weight to it. If you’re reading to be uplifted, stay away. For the sheer mystery—or lack of one—to the plot, jump in.
Favorite line(s): . . . and soon I was hitting the pills hard and sleeping all day and all night with two-or three-hour breaks in between. This was good, I thought. I was finally doing something that really mattered. Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart—this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then—that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.
LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS: A Memoir by T Kira Madden
Madden, a privileged private school kid with alcoholic parents growing up In Boca Raton (Rat’s Mouth in Spanish), Florida in the 1990s writes about the chaos that defined her life. There’s her father’s other family, her stripper cousin Cindy, Uncle Whack who isn’t Madden’s real uncle, the cast of characters her father hangs with, judgmental Grandma Sitchie, friends Clarissa and Beth, the creepy Chad. What I loved about this memoir in essays is Madden’s ability to write, without sentimentality or judgment, to the memory of growing up amongst the dysfunction as a bisexual Asian American, and the daughter of one of the founders of the Steve Madden shoe company. She pivots from her obsession with magic to the JonBenet Ramsay case, to her love of equestrian riding with seamless transitions. The author doesn’t look too hard for someone to blame for the craziness she lived through but instead cultivates the memories as if they are precious flowers to arrange. She loves her parents and accepts all the secrets and neglect that permeated their lives. I found the book magical to the very end.
Favorite line(s): I wonder if my mother feels like this all the time. If my father did, before rehab. In this moment, I think I understand drugs and booze and the big deal about them. I feel infinite here, with these girls, strong, like either one of them could choke me or yank out fistfuls of my hair and I would love it. It’d be the feel-good burn of a loose tooth you can’t stop tonguing, a thoroughbred pounding beneath you on the track, those flashes of life when your own body surprises you with no more ache, no more tenderness. I think, “This is why they like it. Mom and Dad. This is why they don’t come back to themselves, and I feel connected to them in places I’ve never felt before. I’m their daughter.”
Or this one: I love when this happens in the movies, on TV, in the books I read: a boy comes for a girl and then the father suddenly loves the girl more, steps up, becomes protective. No boys or men have ever desired a fatherless girl. I have always wanted this complication.
THE LAST ROMANTICS by Tara Conklin
This was a One Brainer book club selection. A hot mess of wonderfulness “The Last Romantics” reminded me so much of my own childhood. At its heart is the story of four siblings, Renee, Caroline, Fiona, and the golden boy, Joe. After their father dies unexpectantly early in the novel, the mom, Noni, takes to her bed during “The Pause,” and the kids are left to figure life out on their own with varying degrees of success and failure. Eventually, Noni comes out of her fog and what happens next is the story of a family trying to remain present for each other as they immerse themselves in education, jobs, relationships, and their place in the world and in their family. What jars the reader are the occasional jumps to the year 2079 and some misplaced point of view shifts. But it’s not enough to pale this beautiful story.
Favorite line(s): What I wanted to say to this was that the greatest works of poetry, what make each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them, we believe in ourselves, and that is the most powerful thing of all.
Or this: Each of us gazed at the same horizon that would ever appear closer or farther away, that merely underlines the enormity of our solitude. Friends and family milled around us, and yet each of us stood in that space alone. It was as though the care we had shown each other as children had been revealed as faulty, flawed, riddled with holes. Now we avoided any interaction that reminded us of what we once had assumed ourselves to be. I continued to search for Luna. In a way we all did. Even Renee. We searched for Luna as we searched for ourselves, the people we were forced to become.