One thing's for sure: I won't be able to give justice to this book in this post. I feel the need to, of course, because all the while I feel like I owOne thing's for sure: I won't be able to give justice to this book in this post. I feel the need to, of course, because all the while I feel like I owe Richard Yates something. All of those who read it must have surely felt the same way.
So, I will try instead, in all my capability, to tell how this book touched me. In one way or another.
This is the first time I read Yates, and probably this is one of the first books I touched since Game of Thrones. That was an awesome time I spent with an epic series, but I needed a break.
I decided to finish it in one sitting, but almost halfway through, in the end of the fifth story, I set the book down, stared at nothing in a couple of minutes and said to myself, Man, this is terrible. But I have to go on reading. One story after the next. Until I succumbed (after a constant deliberation that one book in two days in this 8-5 or so job won't simply work), in pity to myself, to one story a day. So, I finished it more or less than a week.
The book is obviously sad, and tragic, with stories woven from the lives of normal people trapped in the corners of their own misery. They hide under the bushes of their authority, own pride, confidence and age, because no, they don't go on whining about how lonely they are in the world. Loneliness is an understatement, as Yates have intended it to be. He captures moments in their lives- they last for a few hours, a fortnight, a few days, weeks, months, and for Builders' (the 11th story) case, even years.
From among the eleven stories, I'd pick the third, Jody Rolled the Bones. The story itself lacks any emotional figures, only a bunch of army guys who are supposed to be soldiering in the camp and their platoon sergeant, Sergeant Reece. Yes, you're right. Reece is the bad guy who freaks out on untied shoelaces and probably sends you to the ground with a hundred of push-ups for every clumsy response he gets. But we all know that the army works that way (and worse). Until the camp sends out Reece for some reason and puts a more sociable sergeant in his place. These stupid bunch of guys are happy at first, of course, until they see the difference.
But into the heart of the story, you see lonely Sergeant Reece coping behind the stern grace of his face. You won't see him, but he's there. And I truly understand the army guys as well, for wanting to reach out, because life in the camp is lonely. But it could bring all the difference in the world if they wake up on a training day from a night spent in a dinghy beerhouse, with Sergeant Reece pouring their cups, in low or high spirits muttering something about his daughter's life, or maybe, how that waitress' skirt would have been better if it was an inch shorter.
"It meant, I guess, that at the end of our training cycle the camp delivered up a bunch of shameless little wise guys to be absorbed into the vast disorder of the Army, but at least Reece never saw it happen, and he was the only one who might have cared."
They are characters with a lot of inhibitions. As are many of us, when we are caught in this kind of setting. We want to know more, and could not. We brood over what might have been, and shrug it off afterwards. And we choose to live with shame, as a consolation, and just be content that sometimes, things are just made that way.
Further into the book and the heavier you get. It won't make you cry. Yates is simply plumbing down into your chest as you go on to the next. Deeper and deeper, but without pain. Only holes. Upon closing the book, there's this sudden gush that will sweep through you. For a moment or two, you'll try to think about it. Then suddenly, it will come. It was about you. It was about the people you know: your bully classmate, your professor, your boss, your ex-boyfriend, the lunatic in your subdivision, probably one of your neighbors, your father. And about the strangers you happened some time in your life.
If I were an outsider, I probably would have asked. What are the eleven kinds of loneliness? But no, I am not, not anymore. And I didn't dare to point out whatever it is in each story. I could have guessed, but I chose not to. In respect to Richard Yates, and for the love I bear him now.
Loneliness is just brushing against our skin in every minute. Sometimes, we give in to it, sometimes, we are caught unaware.
Shiny is a seemingly appropriate adjective if I were to describe the book in one word. You can see the effort Simon Van Booy exerted to make the charaShiny is a seemingly appropriate adjective if I were to describe the book in one word. You can see the effort Simon Van Booy exerted to make the characters, the language and even the story, shine. I can say that the setting adds up to it, Greece is attractive itself. Van Booy shows us from the way he writes the details: Athens as a sleepy town and Athens as a landmark bursting with history. It is the perfect place if you want to do some soul-searching, and soul-searching the characters did.
The story revolves around its three main characters: Rebecca, Henry and George. Rebecca dies in this story, but more of that later. So, more on Rebecca. She is French, she paints and she worked as a flight attendant before moving to Greece. She has an unpleasant childhood (they all have, for goodness' sake), probably because her mother abandoned her and her twin sister. She moves to Greece because she wants to focus on her painting.
Rebecca meets George first. George is a rich kid and alcoholic. He is into classical music and a translator. Then she meets Henry, an accomplished young archaeologist. Henry is trying to run away from the guilt in his brother's death. Talk about being shiny, eh? The three form an unusual relationship, with Rebecca being friends with George after leaving him, and George, our martyr George, being okay in this rather awkward position as the third wheel. Henry decides it is okay to be friends with George. As you go on, you get the impression that Athens is a very freaking small place full of coincidence.
So, Rebecca dies in an earthquake, leaving the two devastated. The boys try to figure out what to do with their lives now that she is out of the picture. Then, we get to sense a bromance brewing. LOL. But no, let us not linger there. Henry and George both loved Rebecca, and they are now brothers. The rest of the book tells us how they cope with the loss, and man, that is where the language shines the brightest.
Van Booy's writing is simple yet lyrical. It contains no excessive words, no excessive adjectives like our usual romance novels and is usually in the form of one sentence per paragraph. We get to grip the emotions easily and the impact of every scene. In all honesty, there is this one time I remember myself flailing when Henry says "I would have fallen for you in the sky", when he finds out that Rebecca worked for Air France. ASDFGHJKL.
But, of course the but, while Van Booy focuses to make the novel shine, while we are being enamored by the intensity of the language, there are pitfalls that can be addressed to how the story is crafted. Like how it is all coincidental, from their escapades in Athens to Rebecca's death in an earthquake. I find it really ridiculous, this man-against-nature thing breaking the story apart. Modify this and I could have stuck it out with the boys until the end.
Instead, I decided to just love the language. Van Booy never fails on that, I assure you. I can say that the rest of the story hardly mattered to me after the earthquake, but I was drawn back by the language, saving me from closing this book, and Van Booy from the grudge I will forever have on him after. While I do admit that I drifted for quite some time, words were all it took to forgive him. So yes, it's been decided as well: I like this book, and encourage you to give it a try. :)...more
Somehow, this book reminds me of Everything Beautiful Began After. Not in the love angle, of course, but the story sequence. One of the main characterSomehow, this book reminds me of Everything Beautiful Began After. Not in the love angle, of course, but the story sequence. One of the main characters dies, and the demise breaks the book into two parts. Like EBBA, the before and after are there. But unlike EBBA, the story caters to much younger readers. Although I believe anyone of any age can read it. Looking for Alaska brings back teenage memories, or, it introduces the children to the chaos to come that is the adolescence.
One of the first things to say is that I love Alaska Young. I became pretty attached to her the moment she talks about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. God knows how I love Marquez. So, probably he is what we have in common. She has the most interesting story from among the characters. While one can say that the book is about her, hence the title, I disagree to a certain degree (wow, that rhymes). For me, she only introduces the gist of the story.
Miles “Pudge” Halter is the viewpoint character all throughout. It starts with him seeking a Great Perhaps, a very important quote in this book. He moves to Culver Creek Boarding School and makes friends with Chip “the Colonel” Martin, who is also his roommate by the way, who then introduces Pudge to his friends 1. Takumi (what the hell is Takumi’s last name?) 2. Lara (whose last name is pretty complicated I forgot) and of course, the gorgeous 3. Alaska Young.
Together, they do things the teenagers normally do. Their lives revolve around smoking, drinking, pulling off pranks and almost incidentally, studying. Of course, that is during the Before, when Alaska is still alive. The After? Well, I won’t put too much in here now.
John Green invests so much in building his characters. He builds them so real he spares the effort to put rainbows and those kinds of shit. This is real thing, man, real thing. This is what happens to our teenagers who live away from their parents. This is what happens in the dorm. This is what teenagers think of themselves, they think they are invincible. Yeah, once in my life, too, I thought I was.
As I have said, anyone can read this book. People can say that this is a young adult fiction. Yes, but this has substance. These are young people deciphering the depth of life. Quoting Bolivar in Marquez’s book, "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!", Alaska, Pudge, the Colonel and the rest of the gang, this is what they are trying to answer. And I believe, this is what the book is all about. They might be smoking their lungs out, drinking like there’s no tomorrow, pulling off pranks like a pro, these are teenagers learning.
"There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless." --Pudge