1.05.2011

Exhibit 1.1.19

Why Not


So, yes, more book posts. I'm sorry. I'm reading a lot, what can I say. It's either that or contemplate why the tornado siren is going off. My theories: either it's a test or God intends to finish what he started in Arkansas.

If it helps, I thought this book was fantastic. It's smart and original and funny and, basically, everything the last book wasn't (well, fine, the last book was smart. Maybe I should have gone with clever). This is the first Mary Robison I've read which I find slightly strange as it's a name that feels really familiar to me, just one of those names you hear a lot if you deal in literary fiction. I might have read a story or two some where but none are coming to mind and so I suppose she's nothing but a name and the vague impression that she's Amy Hempel-y which is a good thing to be.

Why Did I Ever is told in 536 chapters (Well, "sections" anyway. If I have a gripe with the book it's that these mostly numbered but occasionally titled sections are further broken up into chapters, as if without this the reader might be fooled into thinking these were short stories, as if any book needs two levels of numbering). Anyway, some representative ones:

141
That fat man driving around with his little pooch? Now why don't I know him or someone like him? That man, I bet, could make me very happy.


365
Hollis is perched on one of the seats in the breakfast nook as we come in. He's eating a pecan roll and reading the Book of Revelation. "Whoomp!" he says. "Did you ever know about this? 'There will be no more night.'"

There are longer chapters though none more than a page or so and some as short as a single word. Despite the fragmentation, the book does work around a cohesive plot and an established set of characters. The narrator is a middle-aged woman working as a screenwriter for a film studio with two children only slightly more troubled than she is herself. It's never sentimental and, despite the darkness, shockingly funny in little, real ways that always seem impossible to me. These kind of life-on-the-brink stories are done to death but rarely do they feel this fraught which is a credit to the form. These short chapters aren't a gimmick, they're a telling representation of the scattered thoughts of a woman in just enough control to get them in the right order but to see her own narrative.

As a teacher--not a reader--it's strange to read a book like this that seems so clearly suited to imparting one lesson. I mean, there's great dialogue and description and characterization and whatever else we're all supposed to be doing. And it's formally interesting and well-written in its own stark way. Plenty to say about that. Really though, it's a book about voice and though the narrator reaches no great conclusion, it's terribly sad to leave her.

1 comment:

Elisa Gabbert said...

Love love love this book.