Friday, November 12, 2010

Gloom Books

Sometimes a book will put me in a foul mood.  It's hard to predict which books are going to do it, though.  I mean, it's naturally never the happy ones--though I think when I get to my 100,000th reading of Curious George something bad might happen. 

The first time I noticed the effect was when I read Blindness, by Jose Saramago.  I had to stop reading it (maybe I've told you this story) about 1/3 of the way through when I realized that every time I picked it up, I would find myself irrationally angry at everyone I encountered within an hour of reading it.  Like, not just the irritating people on the train, but the people minding their own business.

I think I'm feeling this again.  The thing is, Blindness was a powerful book, and you could see my emotional reaction as a testament to that.  I'd Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman, is not in the same class.  It's somewhere in the range of quality where you'd find high-end mysteries and mid-range thrillers, though its pace is a little too leisurely for a thriller.  It's like Alice Hoffman writing a Laurie Moore book. 

None of this is saying anything bad about it.  The story, in essence, is that Eliza, a happy, low-key housewife and mom, is suddenly contacted from death row by the man who abducted her for five weeks when she was 15.  The story moves back and forth between her trying to figure out what to do about him and what he wants, and flashbacks to the abduction.

The thing about this book--the key thing, really--is that Eliza is the most passive person you've ever met.  This is not a failing of the author, though there are plenty of books where a passive protagonist is a bad writing problem.  Here it's the point of the story.  The reason Walter didn't murder Eliza the way he did the other girls is because she was totally compliant.  Her demanding older sister, her warm, intellectual psychologist parents, and later her loving husband and mean-girl teenage daughter all see different aspects of this pliancy.

And now, when Walter contacts her, she doesn't want him to, but she doesn't stop him.  She's pushed around--buffeted, really--by an anti-death penalty activist, by her daughter and her daughter's principal, by her former abductor.  Her whole personality is created around avoiding conflict, bending to circumstance. 

I'm hoping (halfway through the book) that Eliza will come to terms with this about herself--that she'll grasp how much of life is structured around everyone else, how little access she has to her own feelings and opinions, and the fact that what kept her alive was the same thing that allowed Walter to get away with what he did for so long.

The reason I'm blogging at midnight, though, is that the book is pissing me off.  Eliza is, a bit, but no more than the author intends her to.  The book is an unfolding of her character, and that's what I'm getting.  But by nature, everyone in the book kicks her around a little--the opportunistic journalist who follows her to a soccer game, the bullying activist who believes that she's found her true calling when she really just sort of groped around for somewhere to direct her controlling tendencies.  Even Iso, Eliza's teenage daughter, who is really just the classic fourteen year old snarky bitch.  I put the book down, and I'm lying in bed pissed at all these people, wishing Eliza would be mad at them, put them in their place so I can stop thinking about them.

I suppose this is also a tribute to the book--it's engaging, it's got me caught up.  But I'd sacrifice that to be asleep right now, or even just to feel less irritable.

Then again, I've also been sick for a full week, as has everyone in my house, including a poor-sleeping two year old.  Maybe that's contributed to my mood?

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