all of humanity, including extremely smart and discerning readers, loves this book and worships the man who wrote it, and i SERIOUSLY do not want to p...moreall of humanity, including extremely smart and discerning readers, loves this book and worships the man who wrote it, and i SERIOUSLY do not want to piss acid piss on their cheery, heartfelt, we-all-love-each-other parade, so i'm going to put this review between spoiler tags, which also means that i'm going to take advantage of my hiddenness to spoil the book entirely. be warned: i'm spoiling and i'm pissed.
(view spoiler)[you may vibrate with emotion, love and faux understanding at the story of two teenagers who are about to die, and then die, of cancer, but me, i don't. not at all. and when these two teenagers fall in love -- a love that the book defines (inaccurately, i believe) as very much not puppy love -- and one of them loses the other before she, too, goes to the rainbow bridge, then i really want to barf. because can you get any more manipulative? any more exploitative? any more gooey?
there is no depth in this book. there is puppy love, which is kind of depthless by definition (i'm talking about puppy love, not adolescent love) and there is sappy death. people lose people to cancer and countless other tragedies all the time, and it seems to me this should be talked about without cuteness because if there is one thing it isn't that thing is cute. using it for cuteness makes me want to cry and barf with despair for humanity. i do realize that john green makes some (textually marked) attempts to take the cute out of it, but com'on, how is this book not cute? it's the definition of cute. it's cute in the characters' repartee, in the general wit of the narration, in the love that blossoms between these two doomed but beautiful creatures, in their passion for literature and poetry, in their futile yet dogged pursuit of meaning, in their sadness, in their trying to be cheerful for each other and their friends, etc. etc. etc.
all of these things can be and have been dealt with well by writers, but john green slathers them with cute, and there he loses me. big time.
i want to come back to puppy love. there is the love that a child or a teenager feels for another child, another teenager, or another person of whatever age, and then there is puppy love. puppy love is the oversimplification of this love, which is indeed very complex and fraught and rich. puppy love is sitting on the couch watching tv and touching hands. puppy love is trying to figure out sex and then doing it. puppy love is cute notes. puppy love is the trivialization of love. if you take the love two people (or three or four) have for each other and make it cute, you have puppy love. and that is wrong. ask any kid in love whether he or she feels cute. ask them.
and then death. you can make death cute, too! there are a couple of scenes in which john green throws in the most undignified aspects of death -- the sickness, the despair, the apparent loss of one's humanity -- but for the most part, he makes death cute. it's nice that these kids are able to joke so wryly about the fact that they are soon going to (as they put it) lose their personhood, but it doesn't quite work. death is serious business, and this seriousness doesn't come through for me. the cuteness gets in the way, i guess. maybe death is, in a sense, trivial too, and making it cute emphasizes rather than erases this triviality. it is really not that you die: we all die. it's how you die, and how you lived. in this book, how you lived is how much you loved your boyfriend/girlfriend, and that is intolerably reductive, manipulative, simplifying, exploitative, and cute.
i liked this book till about the half-way point. i thought, john green is jonathan safran foer's little brother. but jonathan safran foer, though not immune to cute himself, is a deep dude, a guy who does grief pretty damn well. so no, i no longer think that john green is jonathan safran foer's little brother. i think he is the kid who goes to the same school as jonathan and, having read jonathan's books, figures out what to take out of them that will make his books a smashing success. if you want to read about teenagers in love, you'll do a lot better reading Joey Comeau's One Bloody Thing After Another, which avoids cute like the plague. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** there are a handful things that stand out for me in this memoir-in-stories. a few are on the surface, one is below. the on the surfa...more**spoiler alert** there are a handful things that stand out for me in this memoir-in-stories. a few are on the surface, one is below. the on the surface things are terry galloway's crazy smarts, crazy wit, and plain old craziness. she is fearless, original, creative, irreverent, and entirely fabulous. interestingly, this story looks as if it was written by a 30 year old at most, even though i'd have to put TG in her mid-fifties (i'm just as good at counting as she is so i may be off, but i don't think by much). it is really interesting to me how young she sounds. there are no discussions of aging and no signs of aging in her writing. now, this may sound relatively unimportant, but i don't think it is. i think it's very important. i think it may connect to the point i'm about to make, about the stuff that lies below the surface.
the thing below the surface is a current of pain that resonated in me so deeply, all the shenanigans and the hilariousness could barely conceal it. i found myself cringing and hurting even as i was laughing and cheering, and, often, not quite knowing where all the hurt was coming from.
this breezy, life-affirming, strong, and witty memoir was a slow and painful read for me.
there is a chapter in the last third of the book called "Scare." when terry and her sisters were little, they used to play a game with their mom and dad called scare. they'd hide somewhere in the house and their parents would have to find them. the game grew to be very serious. the kids put all they had in hiding well and staying still for as long as it took. their father, who was a real-life spy (they lived in berlin for some time), was equally good at toying with them. terry describes the game as incredible fun but she also tells us that once a little playmate who was over and got roped into playing peed herself in her little hiding place. me, i would have been nothing short of terrified.
the story of this game is near the beginning of the book. the chapter called "Scare," which is closer to the end, is about a psychotic break terry had when she was in her thirties (or thereabouts). she became intensely paranoid and, overcome by dread, got herself into a psych hospital, where she stayed for a month. the doctor recommended that she stay away from scary stories.
so while the depiction of terry's childhood and her family is overtly warm and normal, her narrative makes a direct connection about a cherished childhood family game and a psychotic break that happened later in life.
when, around the age of nine, she started going deaf, terry also began dissociating in a very pronounced way. she would leave her body and see herself from the sky, where she was floating. the self she left down to earth, though, carried on with whatever she was doing, so that no one noticed anything. terry didn't disclose this, or her deafness, to her parents until things got too much to bear, at which point the doctors discovered that not only was she deaf, she was also extremely myopic. so terry went from being a very free, if sensorily deprived, tomboy to being a girl weighed down by thick girl-shaped glasses and a bulky hearing aid (the kicking in of adolescence didn’t help).
TG does not gloss over the disappointment, frustration, inconvenience, and sadness of these radical changes, but she leaves out the terror. terror, however, suffuses this book from page one, and it's more than the terror of deafness. i can't tell you what this terror is about because TG doesn't give us enough to go on, but i'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that it might have something to do with being a kid who was both disabled and queer. also, it may be related to childhood games that very much reproduced unstable and scary real-life circumstances: the cold war, nuclear annihilation, and dad crossing the line of safety on a daily basis.
later, in passing, TG tells us that she tried to kill herself some eleven times. the statement is immediately followed by a crack, but it's there, and you hear it. mean little deaf queer terry describes enough rejection, impossible longing, unsafe and promiscuous sex, poverty, and isolation to make suicidality entirely comprehensible. that she covers it all with a veneer of humor shouldn’t, i think, fool the reader for a second.
in the last, more open chapters, terry talks about a continuing sense of dread and fear of the great emptiness that is her life. she has a long-time lover by now, and her lover soothes her and comforts her. at the same time, she tells us that, in spite of her obvious gifts for writing and performing, she is still unable to earn a solid living. in the "now" of the narration she is not making a penny.
apart from the very last chapter, which is about cochlear implants and terry's unabashed longing for sounds (TG is definitely not a poster child for Deaf culture), there is not much in this book about what it means to be disabled or queer. the focus seems to be elsewhere, except you can't quite tell where. the attention is constantly deflected. as someone who also uses humor to steer attention away from herself, i think i know what TG is doing. the pain of terry's ab-normality, both sexual and sensorial, is searing, and the dread palpable.
i read this because i wanted to assign it in a course on disability, but i don't think it would work. i think you need to be older than twenty to get the sense of lifelong deflation that undergirds all this dread and pain.
which brings me back to the youthful narrative voice. some of us, those of us who have been visited by early trauma, have a funny relationship with time. in spite of the fact that it passes, time also stands still. instead of accumulating horizontally, so to speak, it accumulates vertically. instead of being a line that lies flat as a road, it's a building that grows and grows and doesn't move except to become heavier and denser and more dangerous. i hope TG doesn't read this, because my analysis is far-fetched and projective and unwarranted. moreover, as i said, she put a lot of effort into deflecting attention, and it is simply unfair of me to claim i can peel off the layers of protection she laid down so carefully. still, once you send a book into the world it becomes the readers' property, so this is what this book is for me, however you meant it, terry galloway. (less)