Monday, June 17, 2013

Substance

A Whisper to a Scream and Until My Soul Gets It Right were both mentioned yesterday over at The Book Dilettante blog as novels "with topics, characters, and plots that would make a good discussion" for book clubs.

Nothing could make me happier.

I like books with some meat to them, no matter what the genre. A couple of weeks ago, I read The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, the wonderful author who so famously took Publishers Weekly to task in April after an interviewer made the ridiculous statement of "I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim." Heaven forbid a woman be displeased with her situation, right?

Messud's response was one for the ages.

"For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?” Nora’s outlook isn’t 'unbearably grim' at all. Nora is telling her story in the immediate wake of an enormous betrayal by a friend she has loved dearly. She is deeply upset and angry. But most of the novel is describing a time in which she felt hope, beauty, elation, joy, wonder, anticipation—these are things these friends gave to her, and this is why they mattered so much. Her rage corresponds to the immensity of what she has lost. It doesn’t matter, in a way, whether all those emotions were the result of real interactions or of fantasy, she experienced them fully. And in losing them, has lost happiness."

Almost a month later, and I still think about Messud's Nora every once in awhile. Her situation. Her life. Her ultimate betrayal.

The Woman Upstairs begins with one of the best rants I have read in a long time — perhaps that I have ever read — that sums up women of my age. If you have not read it, please click here and download the sample. It hooked me after the first sentence, it is that good. So great, in fact that I bought the hardcover because I knew I would want to read it periodically throughout the rest of my life.


Have you read anything lately that will stick with you forever?






5 comments:

Beverly Diehl said...

You've sold me - adding to my TBR list, like I need even ONE more book on it. *rolls eyes at self*

Sounds like the author is a little bit like her character, though, rather prickly. Considering the book is ABOUT friendship and betrayal, doesn't seem like a question about whether one would want to be friends with Nora is so outrageous.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

You are so wise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Interesting point, Beverly. From my perspective, I heard the question the same way Messud did, focusing more on why anyone would need to be friends with Nora, rather than just experience her world.

Deb, you flatter me so! Thanks for stopping by. :)

deborahbrasket said...

Thanks. The book's been on my read list for awhile now, and with your recommendation I'll move it to the top. I had read that interview too, and that's what put it on the read list to begin with.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Me, too, Deborah Brasket.