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Monday, July 6, 2015

A Series of Traumatic Events

I've been thinking about this post for a while. It might be one of the reasons why I took a break (aside from not reading any books for a while) and here's why: of all the books I've talked about, many of which are decidedly not for kids, this one is the not for kidsiest. That being said, it might be the fastest I've ever read 480 pages. With this blog I think I made one disclaimer about content and then realized that it wasn't something I wanted to do. I'm not some content guard. I won't count swear words or assign a movie rating. What offends you might delight me, and vice-versa. I don't get to dismiss anything as objectively immoral or distasteful. I can only speak for me.

I'm in a pretty nice spot for this kind of opinion because I don't run a mall or grocery store or TV studio. I don't have to decide what my audience can or can't handle. Because I don't decide what images Victoria's Secret puts in its windows or what magazines a store puts on its rack, I make my decision on how to negotiate and let everyone else run their lives or businesses how they feel is best.

I just have a blog, which I keep family friendly, but maybe by now you've already decided you can't take my book recommendations because the books I read and recommend often have adult situations. Again. Up to you. I know lots of very smart folks who stick with the robust options found within the young adult fiction section because they don't want to get into the gross stuff. And guess what? You can happily read books your whole life and never read that whole section of the bookstore. Pretty cool world we live in, books-wise.

Anyway, the book is May We Be Forgiven, by A. M. Homes, and there was a point when I was reading it where I thought, Oh, is this one of those books? 

An Aside About What I Mean by "those books"

Here's a controversial opinion: I've read enough Stephen King books to know that I just hate them. Same with Chuck Palahniuk. I don't think they're good writers, and I think they never got over the thrill of shocking their junior high English teacher. The storytelling is good and the writing is bad and they're making up the difference by being controversial. Am I the last word on that? No. Read that first paragraph again.

So, when I say "those books" I mean those books. The ones that are (to me) gross to be gross. Is May We Be Forgiven one of those? I dunno. It didn't feel like it. There's a very strong beating heart of humanity in this book. There are characters who are just so good. It was often sweet enough to move me to tears and walk out of my house motivated to be a better person.

Wait a second, you say, I've read Stephen King books like that!

Response: get your own blog.

Here's Where the Aside Ends and I Describe the Book

It starts out with Harold Silver, a pretty unsympathetic character whose decisions destroy his marriage and lead to a series of traumatic events. These eventually result in him taking legal custody of his niece and nephew as they cope with tragedy. It's super crazy, the way this book starts out. The guy is kind of a mess and the kids are pretty amazing. We're not supposed to like him at the beginning, I think, but his progression is fantastic. He's an expert on Richard Nixon, which is fitting, because both the fictional Harold and the real-life Tricky Dick himself are hard to love (at least at the beginning), but fascinating characters.
Lillian comes out of the kitchen carrying an artifact, the blue metal tin marked Danish Butter Cookies that if I didn't know better I would swear had been in the family for generations - when the Jews left Egypt, they took with them the tins of Danish Butter Cookies. And tins, which as best as I could tell never included Danish Butter Cookies, traveled from house to house, but always, always found their way back to Lillian.”
What follows is a pretty heavy discussion about what it means to be a good person. Also, why are some people bad? Can we forgive evil actions perpetrated by the mentally ill, or even the mentally quote unquote sane when their motivations seem noble? How far should loyalty go? If we get out of our comfort zones, could we really kind of save the world?

Heavy stuff. Heavy topics and an unflinching look at how to live in an often unsavory world and still maintain optimism and empathy and some sort of purpose. I don't know, you guys. Can you get these discussions in other books without the descriptions of diarrhea? Maybe. I'm just shrugging over here. I'm glad I read it and that's all I can really say.

“A guy rubbed against me,” I say. “But I think he was just trying to get by. He rubbed me, then said sorry. It was the ‘sorry’ that made me uncomfortable. The rub was kind of interesting, but when he apologized I felt like a creep because I actually liked it.”