Friday, November 9, 2012

books about disturbing people

So, re: the last post, I think I realized something else about why I might not be considered an introvert: I had politeness drilled into me so thoroughly from such a young age that I always knew my shyness wasn't an excuse to make others walk on eggshells around me. That it was incredibly rude to be visibly miserable at a social gathering, because that makes others uncomfortable. And that's a huge part of why I can play a people person on TV at parties. It's the polite thing to do.

Thanks, parents! And I'm not being sarcastic when I say that.

On the other hand, I'm now comfortable enough with myself to, when making plans for a weekend, tell a good friend, "I can't do [x] on Sunday because I already have plans all day Saturday and I'll be socially burnt out." Many of my friends are also introverts, and understand the need to have one of your two days off be about regrouping privately, and at this point in our lives we're not pretending with each other. Which is also very good.

In other news, I was in a bad and terrifying car accident this past weekend. It was completely the other driver's fault, which made me feel immensely put-upon, and by that I mean it made me feel put-upon not later, but as my car was doing a 180 and bouncing over a curb. When the other car struck me, as my car spun out I wasn't thinking, Dear God, I'm going to die; I was thinking, For crap's sake, now I have to spend my afternoon dealing with this. This is true. I felt the terror much later; at the time I felt solely irritation.

But everyone I've dealt with - insurance people, tow truck drivers, jovial mechanics who were deeply amused at the discrepancy between my appearance and the type of car I drive - has been utterly charming and I trust it will all be resolved at some point.

On to the books!

Since last posting I have read:

Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of, by Harold Schechter. This was my Early Reviewers book and I think it should be repackaged with a less salacious and problematic title and cover (the cover features a giant skull with red eyes), because it was fairly restrained and well-written. Schechter's premise is that some killers who are very famous in their time then disappear from the folklore, while others (like Lizzie Borden) remain infamous, but he doesn't really have any theories as to why this happens, which would have been interesting. The chapters are just recaps of the crimes, with a little bit of chronological context, but I found it a compelling bit of bathroom reading (what? they're short chapters). And I do appreciate someone smacking down Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Whoof. This is the obnoxious memoir I mentioned in my last post. Strayed is the type of person who would legally change her name to "Strayed", and that sort of tells you all you need to know. The basic plot is that Strayed's mother dies and she then cheats on her husband and does heroin and hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and is hot. There is an utterly absurd and soft-core-porny section near the end that exists only because Strayed wants to make it very clear that after months on the trail she was still effortlessly hot enough to pick up a random guy in a bar* who then talked for two days about how gorgeous she is, and she's going to write down every word he said for posterity. The tone of the whole book is like that: I Am A Unique Snowflake Because No One Else Is Hot Or Tough Or Beloved Enough To Do This. Quite literally in places: see the chapter about being "the Queen of the PCT" because everyone wants to do things for her.

The thing is, she was twenty-six when she did this. Twenty-six-year-olds are obnoxious. But she didn't write the book when she was twenty-six; she wrote it in her early forties. (I don't at all doubt there is hard-core self-loathing about aging behind the constant emphasis on being the most beautiful woman in California.) When you read Julie & Julia, for example, you come out of it thinking, "God, Julie Powell's an obnoxious twenty-something," but that's what she was when she was writing it. It's perfectly possible to write a memoir looking back on your early twenties and detail that you were a hot mess, and why, and do it affectionately. There's no insight in this book. It's as if Strayed can only see the timeline of her mother's sudden, early death and the events that followed; she doesn't see any causation or feel the need to get into it if she does see it. For a book in a self-reflecting genre, it's bizarrely lacking in any actual self-reflection. She tells a story about being too cool for therapy because there's nothing "a man" (her words) can tell her about herself, and for three hundred pages she treats her readers like that therapist (I know everything about my own psyche, so I don't have to tell you, and I don't sleep around because I have daddy issues, I do it because I'm so beautiful, and did I mention that my husband on whom I cheated drove 1700 miles to rescue me when he heard I was doing heroin?**). I haven't the faintest idea why I finished this book.

ANYWAY. Then I read two more Gillian Flynns: Gone Girl and Sharp Objects. The latter was her first book and is unsurprisingly much weaker than the other two. Still creepy, but not nearly as compelling. Whereas Gone Girl: aiiiiee!

The story: Amy has gone missing on her fifth wedding anniversary. Nick, her husband, is the prime suspect. We get alternating chapters from the two points of view throughout the book, Amy's first in the form of diary entries and later as, well, I'm spoiling it already. They're both terrifyingly awful people. This book is both so thrilling and so real, in terms of two people falling out of love and dealing with infidelity, that I wanted to read it all in one sitting and physically couldn't. Amy narrates long chapters about being the Cool Girl when she met Nick, all up-for-anything and always-has-a-sense-of-humor and so on, and about discovering his affair, and even though she's an unreliable narrator (as is Nick) I sometimes thought I was going to scream during those chapters. The whole thing is amazingly written and just brutal. Flynn is crazy-talented. I can't wait to see what she does next.

*As a human female who has been in bars, I have to snort a little when women hold this up as an incontrovertible example of their beauty, and a lot of female writers do.

**Does Strayed realize that this is almost certainly WHY she did heroin, and made sure he knew about it: to manipulate him into saving her? No. No, she does not. Every time she references her drug use in the book she says she doesn't know why she did it. YOU'VE SPENT FORTY-FOUR YEARS THINKING ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOU DON'T KNOW THIS? Or, which is possibly worse, she does know but refuses to admit anything negative about herself, and assumes her reader is too stupid to figure it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment