Monday, November 12, 2012

Late Night Thought Experiement

When I was in college--I love stories that start this way, because they're all about being young and stupid and doing weird things late at night.  We had a squirt gun, a laser pointer, a bullhorn, and a window overlooking the quad, and we were unstoppable.

This is a digression; sorry.  I was into thought experiments--what would be the practical problems with a superintelligent squirrel enrolling at the college?  How would I get out of the library if ninjas came in through the front and back doors?  What exact steps would I take if I woke up tomorrow morning and I was inside the body of the girl who lived up the hall?

(Back to the digression; I don't think my college friends know I thought about these things.  I was much more embarrassed back then at how dorky I am.)

That last one is pretty much the premise of David Levithan's Every Day. The narrator wakes up in a different body every day and lives one day in that life.  S/he can access that person's memories as needed--sister's named Jill, math quiz today, allergic to nuts, my turn to make dinner--but the thoughts and feelings are his/her own.  It's always been like this; it's weird, but s/he's used to it.

And then one day--the day the book starts--s/he meets Rhiannon.  She's the girlfriend of Justin, the body our narrator is wearing today.  We can tell Justin's kind of a jerk--not evil, just not great.  But the narrator and Rhiannon have a perfect day together, and suddenly, the drifting tolerance he (let's settle on "he" for now) has for his lifestyle doesn't cut it anymore.  Suddenly, instead of trying to blend in with the lives of his daily hosts, he's going out of his way to see Rhiannon, to find her, and to try to form some sort of lasting human connection.

I'm a sucker for the nitty gritty details of how a weird situation gets handled, and this book is great for that.  I loved the glimpses into the dozens of lives he lives--recovering from hangovers, hanging out with friends, going to a funeral, making it through the school day.  There's a lot of thought about the ethics of each situation--there's nothing he can do to stop this from happening, so he does his best to be a good caretaker of each body.  He sees a lot of the human condition, up close and personal.

But there's so much missing, too.  Any kind of consistency, any kind of physical possessions.  Never in his life has this person had any of these things, and he misses them, as far as it goes. But there are also places where you see the holes in his missing them--there's a great tension in the story between this character's lack of a body and the freedom, the objectivity it gives him, and the presence, the ownership of himself that he misses, that he doesn't even realize is there.

There are so many really interesting ideas in this book--ideas about gender, ideas about ownership, ideas about humanity, ideas about the importance of love--and they're folded in up in such an interesting premise and such a well-told story--I really loved reading it.  I kind of wish I'd been reading it for book club (and not only--sorry, clubbers--because I'm not loving this month's pick).  It would be such a good source of conversation.  Now I kind of want to do a list of discussion questions.  Would that be too dorky?


Aarti said...

I've never read David Levithan before, though I know many love him. The premise of this book both intrigues me and turns me off, if that is possible. I like the originality of it, but how can the narrator have any sort of pesronality if he's always a different person? When was he "born"? I don't quite get it...

LibraryHungry said...

I know! Within the book, you get the point of view of the character, so a lot of mysteries of the premise are never solved. But it's surprisingly well put together when it comes to internal consistency.

As for the personality, well, that's another reason I wished I'd read it for book club. Mine is full of child psychologists, and I do think that the book glosses over some of what the lack of consistency and complete lack of interpersonal bonds would do to a personality.

There's definitely some suspension of disbelief there. But it's used as a tool in some really wonderful explorations of ideas.

Ana S. said...

I would say no, but we're probably not the right people to ask about "too dorky" :P Anyway, I've heard tons about this book and I'm really curious to pick it up sometime. It touches on so many things I'm interested in.

Kris said...

This will be another good book club, because I did not like this book at all. Not even a little. So it'll be fun. If it gets too contentious, we can just agree on cheese fries.