I don't usually write reviews for books that I like. Maybe I am just better at shitting on things. I don't know what that says about me.
I didn't reall...moreI don't usually write reviews for books that I like. Maybe I am just better at shitting on things. I don't know what that says about me.
I didn't really know what this book was, when I started it - only that I liked the author. I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it.
This is a book about That Guy.
It isn't funny the way Terry Pratchett is funny, or John Hodgman is funny. It's funny the way that Pictures For Sad Children is funny, funny in the way that life is absurd even when it's sad.
Veins reminded me a bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That book, however, is about a boy whose autism is explicitly stated, who has people trying to help him. M.R. might be autistic, or he might be retarded, or he might be neither. His family is emotionally abusive. Short of one time, when someone at the school realizes he needs to be given free lunch, he is generally not helped by the people around him.
His inability to understand basic human interaction repulses everyone around him - including his parents. How many people do we know like this, people who try to talk to strangers in lobbies, who set us on edge in part because their inability to adhere to unwritten social rules makes them seem unpredictable? In your mind's eye, you can see him through the eyes of the people around him, and he is familiar in the worst way. His presence discomfits, he says inappropriate things at worse times, he is unattractive and tries desperately to be perceived as 'cool' with only the vaguest notion of what that might entail. The train of logic goes: people would like him if he was cool, and motorcycles are cool, and therefore pretending to ride a motorcycle in the halls of his school will make people like him. He is George Costanza, he is the guy at the party no one actually likes, he is the guy on Twitter sending pickup lines to famous women.
(view spoiler)[M.R. is awful. Seeing through his eyes makes him sympathetic, but that doesn't mean he can't be awful all the same. He is a stalker, he steals ketchup from restaurants, he accosts women in public, he steals compulsively, he has an obsession with listening to women urinate, at intervals he explodes with rage, he masturbates to his high school yearbook.
Through his eyes, though, it's clear that he doesn't understand why these things are awful. They are things that seem self-explanatory, obvious, but he can't see them. It never occurs to anyone to explain why he shouldn't steal, why he shouldn't ask women out at work, why he shouldn't hide in the vents above the girl's bathroom, why he shouldn't throw out mail he doesn't think anyone else will want.
This manifests itself most tragically when he is repeatedly thrown in prison. When his father - suggested to be a criminal as well as abusive - tells him they don't want to call the cops, he takes this at face value. It never occurs to him that finding his brother's corpse is extenuating circumstances. His explosive rage - his general repulsiveness - keeps anyone from suggesting that he is mentally unfit. His being a criminal just seems like the cherry on top of the wretched shit sundae of his person. His understanding of the police becomes that sometimes, they arrest you for no reason. Even when he is arrested for mail fraud, no one really seems to explain to him what he did wrong. Perhaps everyone just assumes it is self-evident. Would his perspective on the police be different, if they had said "not calling the police when you find a corpse is suspicious", if they had said "maybe some people wanted those catalogues"?
But there is the suggestion of an unreliable narrator, as well; or perhaps that's my own interpretation. When the pawn shop burns down, M.R. hides his things because of his fear of going to prison, for being blamed even though he didn't know what happened. But the crux of the book - the beginning and the end - is the burning of a Wendy's. In my case, at least, I found myself wondering - wasn't it strange, that two places that he frequented burned? Was it a legitimate coincidence, M.R. simply a tragic victim of fate? Or had he burned down both places when he not longer wanted anything to do with them? Does he really not understand the world, or does his inability to take responsibility for his wrongdoing color his worldview and cloud his memory? (hide spoiler)]
In the end, I was left wondering if things could have been different for M.R. Different parents, a different school, different people in his life - could someone have intervened? Could someone have helped find a place for him? Could someone have helped him learn the things that don't usually need to be learned?
Or are some people just so intrinsically awful that they will always find a way to inspire pity and revulsion?
Is That Guy born, or is he made?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The first time the male protagonist started angsting because his ex had an abortion, I frowned. The second time, I started getting cranky (SHE KILLED...moreThe first time the male protagonist started angsting because his ex had an abortion, I frowned. The second time, I started getting cranky (SHE KILLED MY BABY THAT WAS AN UNWANTED FETUS IN HER BODY). But then literally EVERYONE kept referring to even the thought of abortion as BABY MURDER. BABY MURDERERS. YOU CAN'T KILL YOUR BABY.
Then they introduce the female protagonist's mother and sister, and they were just such weird awkward strawmannish portrayals of IRRESPONSIBLE SELFISH ABORTION-LOVERS that I couldn't take it anymore. Like... seriously? You're yelling at your sister about how selfish and irresponsible she is AND YOUR SOLUTION TO THIS IS TO MAKE HER RESPONSIBLE FOR THE LIFE OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. I DON'T. I CAN'T. WHAT.
Like... maybe later on in the book that gets resolved in a way that would not squick me out. But it squicked me hard. So I stopped reading halfway through, and I regret nothing except maybe starting it in the first place.(less)