There are some writers who hit you squarely in the stomach with their prose and you both love and hate them for it. These individuals are so skilled that they can take you on a meandering, and at times boring journey which is punctuated with moments of absolute bliss. Ha, much like the theme of life and one’s purpose within this universe that they write about. But isn’t that the whole point of fiction? To show us glimpses of our humanity? To curate beauty and ugliness?
I just finished close to 800 pages of this type of narrative in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. As much I don’t regret reading it, because it’s absolutely gorgeous, I also feel slightly peeved and cheated. She strings us along and gets us invested in tragic Theo Decker, whom you hope and pray does not screw up his life any further than it already is. You feel empathy that he’s lost his mother and you dearly wish that he will find a place to thrive. But at the end, when Tartt suddenly lays it all out there, to offer up what she’s withheld so easily, I thought, really? That’s what you decide to do with me as a reader? After taking a breath though, I understand her method and motivation. She’s trying to demonstrate that life is full of these complexities. It’s inconstant, unfair and as long as you keep yelling its faults from the rooftops you’re only going to get in your own way. Instead, why not try to go with the flow a little and take it as it comes?
A similar message is conveyed in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which to be honest I don’t remember the particulars of. All I know is that it has something to do with trains, values and overbearing parents. The take away though is, don’t wait. All of this waiting for the timing to be perfect or for all of it to be aligned will just sweep away any chance you have of enjoying yourself. We are never ready. Above all, just do something, anything, to get on with it. We so need more of this in our society: reminders to be good.
There is an endpoint, we all have one, so don’t be afraid of the fallout. Everything gets rebuilt once more.
It’s a fact universally acknowledged that the very moment that you say “like I care” is when you care the most. God, I wish it was not true. You gain a lot of baggage when you give too much credit to people’s opinions. You risk very little when you don’t want to be made a fool. But here’s the concession, there are strategies to not give a damn and rewards associated with it.
It’s Andrew’s coping mechanisms to brush things aside. He reasons that it’s a way to not waste energy on things that don’t really matter. Sure his feelings rarely get hurt but sometimes I wish he would pay more attention to the finer details. The downside is that it can make you sloppy when it comes to your personal life. Sometimes you have to do nice things for people even when they’re not particularly considerate or attentive to your needs. It’s work to be a bigger person. But here’s the good stuff, not caring allows you to not fear instabilities that are just a necessary part of life. People always wonder why successful people don’t have regrets that haunt them. It’s because they know they would not be where they are without all of those setbacks.
Another liberating fact is that more likely than not people are too busy to think about you anyways. Schedules are hectic and even when you screw up, most people will devote a nano-second to ponder your situation and then are distracted by something they have to get done. They are probably already checking their phone. Who says that self-interest is always a bad thing, heck I’m pretty sure that it can be an integral part of self-preservation.
But I believe there is a point when you would not let things faze you as much, when you’re not looking for gratification from everywhere but within. I believe the path to this zen, this security, is finding something that you’re passionate about and taking steps to master it. Work hard to excel. I’m currently reading “The Goldfinch” and upon seeing the cover Andrew said, “Donna Tartt, that’s the worst fake name ever.” To which I replied, “she doesn’t care, she’s won a Pulitzer.”
It’s not particularly novel or cutting-edge to depict the dangers of marriage in popular culture. It’s actually a service to society that the prevalence of domestic violence is brought to light. Sadly they have a lot of material to work from. To honor the release of the film Gone Girl, which I hope is infinitely better than the novel, I am going to feature two thrillers that are working within this genre.
There is a spoiler so skip over the next paragraph if you want to wait. Actually, the whole post is a spoiler. Stop here please if you want to wait. Seriously.
I’ll get to the critique right off the bat. The sad reality is that bullies on the playground sometimes grow up to be weak men who push around their wives. But as soon as a writer creates a character like Amy who pushes back, she is of course absolutely crazy. I’m not denying that she is, just that real-life women who are trying to leave emotionally and verbally abusive relationships are not one or the other, a weakling or a psychopath. Adultery and never growing up are forms of emotional abuse in my books, Amy just goes way out of line for her just desserts. The useful lesson from Gillian Flynn’s best-seller is to bring attention to the fact that women are not the only victims. There is a reason why it’s called “spousal” abuse.
Another fighter is Christine in SJ Watson’s “Before I go to sleep.” I read this book when we first moved to Massachusetts, in an empty condo with a sleeping child and my husband at work. It scared the living daylights out of me to say the least. Silence is not your best friend in these situations. Christine is desperately trying to piece together her life after a horrific accident where she suffered severe memory loss. Each morning she wakes up and cannot reclaim her short-term memory. This results in her husband being a stranger and her telling herself that she is in love with him. I’m not going to give much else away because it’s just too good to spoil. Lets just say that something is not quite right and you too will be as desperate as her to figure out the “truth”.
Both novels also address the power of memory and how it’s very much shaped by context. If you lost all those fragments tomorrow and had to rely on other people telling you the significance, just imagine how meaningless it would become. It also reminds us how much we mediate on what we remember and change it. There is no absolute truth and that’s what creates such a chasm between Amy, Christine and their sleaze bags husbands. I think this is a great lesson here on how unhappy you can become if you put so much weight on making memories and capturing the happiness. Sure, joy is meaningless when it’s not shared but being able to live for yourself would also make your life more sane and manageable. Amy’s problem is that she is clueless to her own flaws. Nick not remembering some random outing does not a thoughtless bastard make. Probably gives some perspective to our own idiosyncrasies non? To try to see the forest for the trees?
The first thing I would tell Marina Keegan, author of “The opposite of loneliness” is that she’s fucking talented. I also want to apologize for calling her “Monica” when I tried to share her work on Facebook. But I can never tell her this through correspondence or in person because she died at the age of 22 in a car accident. It’s always so tragic when someone with gifts and promise passes away. So many of us have gifts and promise. Thankfully she has left her legacy through her work. She will be evergreen. Marina, whom her former professor described as: “brilliant, kind and idealistic; I hope I never forget that she was also fierce, edgy, and provocative” was a riot. Apparently “if you wanted a smooth ride, Marina wasn’t your vehicle.” She probably would not care that I butchered her name. Wherever she is she’s too busy feeling, writing about it and having a grand ole time.
The woman pictured below is not Marina Keegan and I’m not sure of her identity because I got the photograph from Tumblr. But I feel like she reflects Marina’s spirit, her exuberance. What’s special about Keegan’s work is that she wrote about a time that all of us would die to get back. When things were so raw, urgent and everything was vested with meaning. We lived for those glorious, messy nights when we were reckless and felt that we were invincible. We wanted to connect with the right one, the wrong one, anyone. But who knew that growing up would come so soon and that responsibilities and promises would burden us with some weight. The big girl pants are great but can fit a bit tight. It’s when you feel the most confined that you long for those years when you were completely free. When we literally vibrated with excitement and all of the possibilities were palpable. I don’t wish back the puke in my hair or the complete emotional annihilation from the boy I could have truly loved. But we were so lucky. We had Queen’s to allow us to figure out the angles, to step up and choose the identity to take forward. I don’t want to go back, fuck I’m so much wiser, but cannot help but smile when I think of you, and it all. Thanks, it was fun.
Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice would have rather been a penniless spinster relying on the charity of her relatives than to marry a man she didn’t love. How much more bad-ass can you get? Fully aware that she would be bored out of her mind embroidering cushions for the rest of her life, she preferred that to having to spend tedious evening after tedious evening with someone she couldn’t respect. A feminist in the documentary Forbidden love describes how so many people kept defining her behaviour as being deviant because of her sexual orientation. One day she just decided to go with it and thought “fine, I’m bad. But I’m a good bad because I’m smart.” I think I would put Lizzy Bennett in this same category because she understands that not many men would consider her intelligence to be an asset in being a “good wife.” Her financial circumstances also place her at a disadvantage. But she frankly does not care. She believes that she is a full-human being and interacts with her world boldly. She not only played the game but owned it. You know she’s boss when she married not just a wealthy man, but a “filthy rich” one as her mother would so tactfully put it. He was also beautiful. This is equivalent to her becoming a CEO in her time period when the only employment option for women of a certain standing was marriage. So, lets take a moment to give pause to this literary figure and the woman who brought her into existence.
We should all be so lucky to have more Elizabeth Bennetts in the world. I believe that the novel is still so well-loved because we hope that it could happen now. That you could transcend, class, racial and other lines that prevent so many partnerships from beginning. I once asked my late grandmother what she thought of my relationship. I did this because she used to tease me that she had some wealthy, educated and kind Burmese men who were “export quality.” She was joking but I did wonder if she had reservations about me getting involved with someone outside of my race. She replied that 40-50 years ago it just would not have happened. Even if we had feelings they would not be enough to endure the social and emotional hardships. People often forget that in the 50s inter-racial couples could not get married. It was against the law. Commonalities make everything easier and social interactions go more smoothly. Rationally, you can understand why relationships with those of a similar background would be alluring. But when many of us read this novel it’s not just romantic but it gives us hope for better days. Many of us want to see a future where we return to the humanity that joins us, for us to see through the socially constructed barriers.
In that historical context, Elizabeth Bennett’s wit will serve her well within Darcy’s circle but lets keep it real, she gets her credentials from what he thinks of her. His world is one that she never would have been able to attain on her own. But because he thinks so highly of her and is willing to overlook the huge divide in class, she is automatically placed at his level. Every reader will praise Elizabeth but Darcy is pretty bad-ass too.