Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Photo: from the author's webpage and bio section. It's on her latest books, too. And in Entertainment Weekly, which says that her newest, Station Eleven, is "the must-read of the fall." I don't doubt that it is. I love her writing, from her first book, reviewed here, to her online essays. Good writing is good writing, no matter the form or the genre.
An exquisitely-written, stays-with-you little gem of a book, more about the people who are left behind than about the people who leave.
Very short, at 220 pages, but very deep about obsession, depression, leaving and staying behind. The characters are all representatives, of course, more than they are flesh-and-blood, exactly, which made me hate Lilia a little less at the end, when we learn in the last few sentences of the book that she lived happily-ever-after (mostly) after all, despite all the (mostly unintentional, but c'mon) heartbreak she left in her wake.
But she has been thrown through a window, seen a man driven off the road, seen a woman pulverized by a subway train, and she never had a lasting friendship or relationship until she married in her late-20s after finally staying somewhere--in this case, Italy. Some reviews hated on her character, and I could see their point, especially how this waif with tight dark hair just so easily grabbed relationships with men and women (bisexuality is hinted at in the book)--and all she has to do to get them is to read in cultured little coffeeshops... Yet, I don't doubt that there are a lot of Lilias out there, and that there are indeed affected women who sit in coffeeshops all the time, and bookish male intellectuals trip over themselves to be with them. Plus, looking at the author's picture, I think it might be a bit of a self-description. Maybe a little Freudian analysis is necessary here. But I digress...
Lilia is representative of a type, and not full-blooded, so I ultimately gave her a pass. After awhile of thinking about it. Plus, I'd sit down next to her in a coffeeshop...
But all the characters are this way. They're representative, and many of them come off far worse than she. There's the aforementioned mother who threw her young child out the window...which was closed, by the way. And she left the child in the winter snow to freeze, too. Luckily that didn't happen--the freezing, I mean.
Then there's the detective father who is the real obsessive of the book. He leaves his wife and daughter for weeks, months and, yes, years at a time, to track down Lilia and her father, long after her abduction ceased to be worth tracking down. (She's in her 20s, and plus she was better off away from the free-throwing mother.) This guy's wife leaves him, then he leaves his 15-year old daughter alone as he again obsessively tracks Lilia down. Ultimately he ends up returning to his young daughter for a short time, but then he leaves again and disappears forever from her life. It's possible he commits suicide somewhere.
This girl, his daughter, quits school, which he doesn't notice, and eventually befriends Lilia, and then her ex- (who Lilia leaves at the beginning and who tracks her down in Montreal, in a fashion, but he actually latches on to this guy's grown-up daughter, kinda gets obsessed with her for two weeks and never really seems that intent to find Lilia...) and then she becomes a stripper, learns something even more unsettling about her father, and then kills herself.
She's the real victim here.
The above paragraph may make the book sound like a soap opera, but it's really not. In lesser, untalented hands, this would have been a real mess, and worthy of mockery and lampooning--but it's in great hands, and really stylishly and compactly written. It's not my kind of book, normally, but there's huge buzz right now about Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, so I wanted to read her early stuff first. I also read a couple of her online articles--one about NYC's reaction to Ebola before the doctor got sick there--and those were very well-written as well.
You've got to read this one. For the writing. For the interweaving structure. For what it says about those who leave. And for what it shows about those who are left.
It's well-constructed, a bit haunting and lyrical, and it'll stay with you. It'll resonate.
And, oh yeah--Don't go to Montreal in the winter.