Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Story of a Marriage

I burned through this book pretty quickly.

While the theme is probably what the author wants us to talk about I can't help but first talk about plot devices. The author really wanted to throw us for some loops. I guessed the first, he left enough bread crumbs (maybe just one but it was a big one that left me wondering why he didn't just come out and say what the "surprise" was with such a blatant hint half way through the first section). But I was blind sided by most of the others, just like Pearlie was. However on a smaller level the plot devices used were a little annoying. People would say things or pick things up but rather than be told what was said or what was picked up I'd have to read another chapter to see what was picked up or said. I can only imagine this was done to get us to keep turning the pages, but it actually slowed me down as I had to re-read the paragraph or two around those sections to try to figure out if I'd just missed a detail or if it was again intentionally left off to keep me in suspense.

Enough about the plot, but a little more about writing style. Greer loves similes, a lot. In my own writing I often worry that I put too many in, but I feel reassured when I compare myself to Greer. Luckily most of his similes are really good, but yeah, I started to notice their ever-presence. (If I was feeling really clever I'd make a simile right now comparing his production of similes to something else, but I'm not feeling really clever right now).

Now, finally, at last, the theme. What do we know about the people around us, especially our spouses? It's a good theme, one with a lot to look at, however I think Greer didn't deal with it with much nuance. To make the husband and wife opaque to each other he had to literally have them never talk about anything of any importance. The relationship didn't feel real because of this. Mind you, I'm sure there are relationships where a pretty substantial lack of communication is present but my hope (and experience, though small) is that most people just don't live like that, at least not to the degree that Pearlie and Holland did. Of course this very gulf between them made it easier for him to make his point, you don't know your spouse so much as you know a construction of your spouse that you've constructed in your head. It happens to all of us, even if to a lesser degree, but hopefully we're doing better than these two were. Have I beat this horse dead yet? I think so.

The writing was beautiful. I picked the book up for two reasons. 1) I read the Confessions of Max Tivoli a while ago and loved it and 2) It took place in the Sunset District of San Francisco, which is where I live, the familiarity of the environment adds a bit of fun to a story. While some of the plot devices were distracting I was pulled into the story and had a hard time putting the book down, I couldn't look away from their marriage. One might argue that it is as much a story about war (or the effects of war) as it is a story about marriage. I don't think one would be wrong in making that argument, but I'd probably have to read the story a second time with that in mind to talk sensibly about it. Maybe I will one day, it's a pretty short novel.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Painfully Impressed

Pardon this disjointed mess. Sometimes forming coherent thoughts is like cleaning someone else's home, or putting together Ikea furniture, you're often left with little items and pieces you don't know where to put. Consider this a virtual Ziploc baggy half-full of this and that; even if it's not obvious, all of these things go together, some how or other. Bear with me.

The other day I was looking at Berkeley while she slept. I thought to myself, "If every soul on the planet could see her now, in this state of helpless innocence, no one would ever hurt her." I knew the logic was false before the words could even reach my lips. I can't imagine loving her more, but I will no doubt cause her pain some day, even if not intentional. How little can I expect from those that don't know her, even if they were afforded a glimpse into this little slice of our lives?

A long time ago I saw these words juxtaposed: painfully impressed. The exact reference is lost to me now but those two words have stayed with me ever since. They express something other than envy or jealousy. It's amazement, perhaps even gratitude, that simultaneously impresses and makes the observer aware of some deficiency of their own. It's sadness wrapped in admiration.

Once upon a time there was a little girl. She entered the the world naked, radiant, and beautiful as any child ever born.  Once upon a time her father gazed down upon her sleeping body and rather than be stirred to his core with joy he felt what? Emptiness? Fear? Loathing? His own failings? Nothing? Anger? Some other feeling(s) impossible to separate from his wife, from his father, from his mother, from his childhood? God only knows. God. Only. Knows. The father likely couldn't label it any better than I can. But whatever it is, it remains. And she saw it again, ten or twelve years later, not directly, but by measuring the distance between herself and him and comparing it to the distance between Berkeley and me. She saw it and it broke her heart. And it unexpectedly hurt when I discovered that my closeness to Berkeley caused her this pain.

Of course she knew before our encounter. We make a mistake when we think that kids aren't aware  enough to be affected by complex events. Their little eyes and ears and hearts are taking it all in. Even if they can't process it at the moment, they'll look back one day and wonder why it happened the way it did. Why them? Why couldn't it have been different? I lack a good answer for her. But for the rest of us: please don't forget the little ones, because they never will.

Brief Review on Mountain Man

There are a few chapters in this book that I would give five stars to, but as a whole it felt rather slow. Expectations may have hindered my ability to love the novel. I expected a fast paced story and a lot of action because it was a western, but something else entirely was delivered. It felt less like a story and more like a character study. As a character study it felt like it could have been 200 pages shorter. I received a great many lessons on the way you could cook elk roast and berries, many of them seemingly the same receipts. I was briefly introduced to enough mountain men that it was near impossible to keep any of them straight in my head, other than Sam Minard himself. Point being, instead of a story I read a lot about a man sitting around preparing food and thinking about classical music.

On the positive side Fisher sketches some really great scenes where animals are the main actors. The battle between the badger and grizzly that introduces the book sucked me in enough to buy the thing while standing in the Portland airport. Later a similar fight between a small pack of wolves and a grizzly was good enough that I had to stop and re-read it out loud to Robyn.

Beyond these glimpses into the minds of animals, the third chapter, where Sam silently builds a cabin for Kathy, was one of the most unexpectedly human things I've had the privilege to read. It was so good that the remaining 200+ pages were nearly redundant in their efforts.

I bought the book partially as a challenge to myself to read something different. I'm glad I read it.