Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Whatcha Readin'? (week 39)

You have probably heard of the equation used for figuring out the socially acceptable age difference of romantic partners:

Younger partner's age must be > 1/2 (older partner's age) + 7.

If younger partner's age is < 1/2 (older partner's age) + 7, then there is a very good chance that the older partner is having a midlife crisis and is making a fool of him/herself.  (I'm looking at you, Tom Cruise.)

I developed the Reader's Corollary this equation. I have to read half the book, plus 7 pages and then I can quit in good conscience. Life is short, and there are more books out there than I can possibly read. Now, that said, I finish the vast majority of books I begin. I'm all about the closure at the end. And that bass. I'm all about that bass, too.

I'm sure you can tell where this is going. I had to break up with a book this week. 

Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison looked promising on GoodReads, but by the end of our first date, I was questioning what I thought I saw in this one to put it on my "To Read" list.

For one thing, it is an epistolary novel, written entirely as journal entries. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? What if I told you every single journal entry could have been written on post-it notes? Chapter 1 was 2 1/2 lines long. Chapter 2 was 3 lines long. 

It gave me the feeling of being on Law Order, when the detectives walk into the crazy conspiracy theorist's secret room and there are notes and newspaper clippings and surveillance photos all over the walls. That is not a feeling I'm comfortable with.

Why Did I Ever was like being dropped into somebody's mental Twitter account. 140 characters that made sense to them at the time, but wasn't necessarily fit for public consumption.  Ironically, as I am writing this--literally, at this very moment--I am beginning to appreciate Mary Robison's point.  

The protagonist has some serious problems that she's dealing with. Her life is in shambles, her adult childrens' lives are in shambles. A few of the longer chapters (e.g., 12 lines) allude to her son having been the recent victim of a violent crime; her daughter is a junkie. As I got closer to the half-the-book-plus-7-pages cutoff, I started to wonder if Money (the protagonist) was a multiple personality or possibly the imagining of the autistic child in St. Elsewhere.  

Why Did I Ever is actually well-written. It's just that it's written in a style I don't personally appreciate. And even that isn't entirely accurate. I found several lines that I thought were just brilliant. In the chapter entitled "Ride Along With You," one Money's coworkers says to her, "I just detest you. To the point that it's almost invigorating."  I loved that sentence. Another example of greatness, from chapter 276: (Why, why, why? Why do some chapters have titles and some have only numbers?)
Anyway, in chapter 276, Money writes, "I think perhaps a syllable maximum should be set for some people and, I'm sorry, but rather a low one."

All in all, I had to break up with Why Did I Ever. There were definitely a couple of interesting things going on, but I just knew that if I stuck with it, I would be sorry. I didn't want to hear about the crime against her son in minimalist prose. There were no signs that anything was going to work out, and there wasn't enough narrative for me to even hope that I was going to understand whatever did happen. And, strangely, I'm sad about it all, just like a real break up.

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