I had a dentist appointment recently, and brought this book along. I knew I’d only have a maximum of about 5 minutes of free reading time, if any. Sure enough, though I got there a few minutes early, they brought me right back. Dang it! I was disappointed. From the moment I picked this book up, eating, sleeping, working, breathing, all seemed like a burden and unwelcome distraction from the only thing I really wanted to be doing, and that was reading more of this book. It was that good. Reminded me what I love so much about reading.
Luckily, when I got back to the chair, the dentist needed to check on another patient, so I got a chance to read a little after all. The dentist seemed amused that I would bring a book in hopes of sneaking just a couple minutes of reading in (shows how well she knows me). Chuckling, she remarked “that must be good; what’s it about?” And I was left blank. I’m rarely at a loss for words, especially about books. But, though I was even then a good portion of the way in, I really couldn’t say. Now that I’ve finished, I still can’t say. And I think that’s a good thing.
At the time, all I could muster was “it’s about an angry woman. An angry elementary school teacher who never had kids of her own.” And it is. But that’s a pretty superficial assessment. So what else?
It’s about history, and how history can never see and convey all perspectives at once. Therefore, any history is, at best, a best effort from a single perspective. This has been on my mind lately, this concept that even history (and more broadly, non-fiction) is just as fictional, or at the very least subjective, as a lot of other writing. What role does ethics play in writing a historical account?
It’s about isolation and loneliness. And your initial impulse in hearing that, most of you, is probably “oh, that sounds sad. Awful, really.” But it’s not, at least not completely. Certain people/personalities need solitude. Quiet. Time and space to reflect.
It’s about dreams. Vivid dreams. Good ones and bad ones. Sleeping ones and waking ones.
It’s about love, in many of its various forms. How you can love, for example, each member of a family in an equally intense but completely different way. I guess you could call it a non-traditional love story. And I like those. I like traditional ones too, but it seems we all, if we are lucky, only ever get to see one of those from start to finish. Stories like this one allow you to catch glimpses of other potential ones in a harmless environment.
It’s about art. Art vs. entertainment. Art vs. “reality.”
It’s about human frailty. And imperfection. And selfishness.
One line that really struck me and stuck with me: “I couldn’t bear to be a failure. It seemed worse to try and fail than not to try.” I know people who think this way, some of them very well.
In another part, the narrator describes feeling multiple different, conflicting sentiments at the same time, and how she could “keep it all in [her] head at once.” I thought that, too, was a beautiful and familiar concept.”
This was the best, most moving book I have read in a long time. The “woman upstairs” concept was fascinating, and it made me think of others I might know. This was a personal recommendation from Dunce One to me, and it was an excellent one. He’s one of the best book recommenders around (he’s an avid reader, and a librarian, after all).
Highly, highly, highly recommend it. Please let me know if you get a chance to read it, and let me know what you think.