"I'm doing this thing where I live in the present tense," he says.
"How does it feel?" I say.
"Oh, terrible," he sings.
This is what I got out of this b"I'm doing this thing where I live in the present tense," he says.
"How does it feel?" I say.
"Oh, terrible," he sings.
This is what I got out of this book: living in the present is hard. It's a lot easier to slip into the past. There's a certain kind of comfort to be drawn in knowing what you've done, all the mistakes and triumphs and wrong turns and back-tracking and wondering about the what-could've-beens. It's a lot easier to wallow in the rut you've created than to face the unknowns of the future or to meet the disappointment of the present head-on. Because let's face it: life is not easy. No matter how blessed or charmed you think your life is, the universe will eventually throw you a curve ball and leave you floundering and alone. But stick with it and things work themselves out. You may not have the happy ending you've been told to expect, but things straighten themselves out in the long run, and when it does, it brings clarity and maybe even a little peace. And the happy ending? HEAs are over-rated anyway.
I tore through this book--not very difficult as it's fairly short, somewhere just shy of 300 pages--but it just grabs you and doesn't let go. The first chapter alone, written in second person, was enough of an oddity that I had to continue to see where it took me. Jami Attenberg's narrative was solid, heartbreaking, and her writing was tight. It was clean, it was human. This has to be one of those books where that old adage, "It's the journey, not the destination," fits extremely well. And the journey was strange and unexpected, equal parts difficult, frustrating, heartbreaking and uplifting. It left a bit of hope at the end, just enough to leave a smile on your lips (view spoiler)[even though there was no happy ending (hide spoiler)]. Andrea's narrative jumps back and forth, time is fluid, just as the characters that weave in and out of Andrea's life. At the end, it left me feeling a little sad, a little dazed, a little wistful, and charged enough to write this review.
Because ultimately, this journey is our journey. Andrea's life wasn't clean. It wasn't perfect. Far from it. She doesn't know who she is, doesn't know who she wants to be. She is steeped in apathy, in ennui, searching and failing, failing and trying, giving up and giving in.
I had a hard time connecting with Andrea in the beginning. It wasn't Attenberg's fault at all. There was something in me that kept her at a distance, that was resistant, that wanted to connect but just couldn't. I kept telling myself everything I was reading was so far out of my experience, that it was way out of my comfort zone I couldn't possibly say I understood what she was going through.
But the more I read, the more I realized that what was stopping me from connecting with Andrea wasn't the differences in experience, it was me. Me. Instead of seeing surface differences, I started seeing similarities. Sure, Andrea's in her forties, is single, sleeps around a lot, drinks a lot, does drugs periodically, and is largely disillusioned with her life. I'm in my forties, I married the first guy I dated, I don't drink and have never done drugs, but I too am largely disillusioned with my life.
Andrea is an artist--was an artist--but instead of making art, she toils at a corporate job that pays well enough for her to continue living comfortably in Manhattan. But her job leaves her empty and apathetic and she acknowledges that it is killing her a little bit at a time. But she's been doing it so long she doesn't know what to do with herself if she isn't doing it. So she tries to surround herself with art when she can, but when she does, instead of bringing her enjoyment, it only hurts and angers her. Not because of the future she might have had--no, she was too insecure about her own artistic abilities, she didn't believe enough in herself to put herself out there--but because too much of what she sees is contrived and empty and devoid of any kind of soul. But, she acknowledges, at least it's out there, and that makes her question herself and her decisions, so she eventually avoids art altogether.
I wanted to be an artist, a writer, but I toil at a job that pays well enough that I can afford a home in the suburbs, yearly vacations, a nice car and all the perks of a middle class existence. But the job itself leaves me angry, exhausted, empty, disillusioned, cynical and yes, oftentimes bitter. And even though I try to surround myself with art and books and I still draw sometimes, and I write when I have time, I question my abilities and think I'm too old to hold on to such childish dreams. I read so that I can escape the drudgery of life, so that I can lose myself in someone else's words, in someone else's world. And at times it angers me because for every great work I come across, there are three others that are terrible. And yet they're out there. There are writers who have tried and failed, and tried and tried again, and eventually succeeded in doing something that I say I want to do but am too scared to fail at. And so while others put themselves out there, I hide away behind my fear and my insecurities and my safe little job.
Andrea is surrounded by people and yet feels isolated, alone, lonely. Her brother and his wife have moved to New Hampshire to care for their dying baby. Her mother, whom she has always had a complicated relationship with, eventually leaves Manhattan--and Andrea--to help care for her dying grandchild. Andrea is cast off, left to wonder What about me? but her mom tells her to get over it. She's had her for forty years. It was someone else's time now. Andrea's friends, mostly women, get married, have children, move on, because that's what happens. And Andrea feels abandoned, left behind, a single person navigating that confusing, confounding thing we call life. And she feels her isolation deep in her marrow, equates it with death multiple times, until she wears it so completely that utter strangers see it as part of her persona: her singleness, her loneliness.
I, too, have had a complicated relationship with my mother, my sister. I have seen friends marry, get pregnant, have children. I've orbited their worlds and tried to remain engaged in their new expanding universe. But the simple fact that I've never had a child of my own--not by choice; it was just the way how it turned out--sets me apart, and their worlds eventually collide with others who are on the same trajectory. And they form these supergalaxies, and even though intellectually, you know that there is more than enough room for everyone, you recognize that you no longer quite fit in that world. You're not booted out, but slowly, you phase yourself out. And you watch as your friends gravitate towards others with children, watch as their children grow up with others, listen as your friends form mom groups and friendships that somehow seem deeper than the ones they have with their childless friends. And all because of that shared experience called parenthood. Sure, there is jealousy and sadness, but it's just part of life. We've all been surrounded by others, been in relationships good and bad, and at some point, recognize that we feel isolated, lonely, alone. Part of and yet apart.
Two-thirds through the book, I had an epiphany. It wasn't that I wasn't enjoying the book, because I was. It wasn't that I couldn't connect with Andrea. It was that I was seeing too much of me in there. Not in the mess that was her life, but in the spaces here and there. My life was every bit as messy and as complicated as hers, and I was just as big a mess as she was. (Okay, maybe not quite as big a mess, but my life is plenty messy in its own way.) No one likes looking in the mirror and seeing all their flaws and imperfections staring back at them, but sometimes, that's all there is to see.
So when things start turning around for Andrea, when she starts to see with a bit of clarity, I feel it too, and I'm cheering her on because it feels like I'm cheering me on:
So that night I’m running in the rain and I’m giddy and happy and a little teary imagining another life for myself, one where I quit my job and I’m squeezing my brain so hard trying to figure out what’s next, do I shut down my life for a year and just travel until I figure it out, do I move to the small town in New Hampshire where my family is and stay with them until my sick niece passes away, do I volunteer my time to help change the planet, do I stop being such a narcissist, do I find God, does God find me, do I sit quietly and feel the earth rotate and breathe deeply every morning until I am calm and happy and centered and capable of being satisfied?
I am dripping everywhere, all of me melting. I want to be recognized too, I realize. I want someone to see me. What if I start making art again? What if I just did that? That is the thing I love, that is the thing I miss the most. For so long I have believed I could never catch up, but now I realize there’s nothing to catch up to, there’s only what I choose to make. There’s still time, I think. I have so much time left.
And worst of all, what if you don’t know what you like at all? What if nothing sticks? Then you spend half your life wondering what it is you’re supposed to be doing next. What happens after that?
And so when her brother tells her he's trying to live in the present, I get it. It's hard being a grown-up. It is scary, but hey, it's right here, right now. Time to embrace it. I can always slip into the comfort of what I did before, but that's the easy way out. Maybe I ought to concentrate on what I'm doing now, who I'm interacting with now, and try to get my act together enough so that I can look towards tomorrow....more
I was prepared to lose myself in The Vorrh. I was, I really was. I was ready to be entranced by the beautiful, soaring prose (and boy, was I entrancedI was prepared to lose myself in The Vorrh. I was, I really was. I was ready to be entranced by the beautiful, soaring prose (and boy, was I entranced by the lyricism!). I was ready to go on this marvelous, fantastical adventure (and how much more marvelous can it get---The Garden of Eden at the center of a mysterious forest! Magical creatures! Mythical beasts! Dead poets, artists and historical figures galore!). This is literary fantasy, people. This is THE book of 2017. THE book of a new age. The critics couldn't stop their ebullient, effusive praise. In fact, they couldn't control it. They were tripping over each other, trying to get to the front of the line to applaud and compliment this sublime work, this wonderful piece of fiction-that-was-beyond-fiction.
And that should've been my first clue.
Not my cup of tea. And I love tea.
Look, the novel is BEAUTIFULLY written. The language soars. It really does. And I am a lover of beautiful language.
But beautiful language only goes so far.
Because if I can't connect with the characters, if I find myself cringing at every act of violence, if I find myself not caring about anything the author is trying to say, then it's not worth it. You've lost me. The most beautiful prose in the world won't be able to overcome my ennui. My distaste. My lack of engagement.
So, while there are many who will enjoy The Vorrh, and may wonder at my lack of appreciation (or taste), I am not one of them.
And I am okay with that.
Now on to a nice fluffy piece: The Unattractive Vampire, anyone? ...more