Have you ever felt used by someone? You know what I mean. Have you ever felt as though some one was being your friend merely to gain access to your home, car, vacation spot, food, connections, lifestyle, advice, etc.? I am guessing that the sensation of feeling “used” is quite universal. Perhaps the user is intentionally abusing your kindness, generosity, or naiveté, but probably they are seemingly unaware of how their behavior is coming across. While reading the book Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn, I kept coming back to this idea of how we constantly use those around us. David has recently been reading How to Make Friends and Influence People and, from what he shared, it seems the user-usee relationship is the integral relationship of human interactions. According to author Carnegie, the best way to interest someone is to compliment them in a genuine fashion and/or ask them about themselves or something/one they love. His advice stems from his belief that everyone is self-interested and that in being self-interested, we therefore use those around. How to manipulate, control, or shift this primary occurrence is what is key to “success.”
In the book Prospect Park West, the characters are highly interesting. Each has a quirk, a compulsion, a fun side, and, quite frankly, a selfish side. As the book progressed, I was wrapped up in their trivial daily dramas but found that the characters are not likable people. Each character is using someone for their own personal or professional gain in overt ways. Rebecca uses Lizzie to feel loved since her “meanness” repulses her husband while Lizzie uses Rebecca to explore her sexuality until Rebecca put off by the affection Lizzie shows is then repulsed by Lizzie. Karen uses Melora as a crutch for social anxiety while she also uses her husband to gain access to premium property in the coveted Brooklyn neighborhood. None of the characters truly express love or genuine affection for any of the others and yet they are connected through their constant need to self-promote. While I cannot say that I liked the book and its variety of messages, it did get me thinking about the purpose of relationships, friendships, and made me more aware of how I and those around me self-promote or use in order to advance or get their way. While this is all part of human nature, I am hoping that this chick lit can be a breaking point for me. I truly want to try to avoid being like these women in this novel. Yes, their stories are sensuous, suggestive, and fun but the content of their character left me wanting. I can see some of those baser traits in myself and I want to do more to not only be aware of them but to shift them to something more positive. In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes Daisy and Tom as “careless” people. I would describe many of the characters in Prospect Park West as similarly careless. But, hopefully with this in mind, I can avoid a similar description.
A few weeks ago, I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and wrote a little review on the book which was recommended to me by a friend. Having been intrigued by this dark thriller, I decided to read Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects while travelling from Boston to Minnesota and back this past weekend. In many ways, the books are similar with their disturbed protagonists who are unafraid (or at times driven) to inflict pain on themselves. Both stories revolve around murder and mystery that bring the protagonists perilously close to the murderers. Dark is a word that is exhausted while describing Sharp Objects. One of my favorite reviews is by Stephen King (Though I have not read any of this novels as I am too scared to do so), “To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take.”
Flynn’s style of writing is contagious. From the first sentence to the last she generates a fever in the reader that compels him or her to read through the tale of intrique as quickly as possible. Home is complicated place for many and Sharp Objects exposes these trials that members face within a particular family. The “give and take,” the “love and hate,” and the “for and against” mentality of the family is exhibited for the reader who may or may not understand these opposing feelings about one’s childhood home. Yet, this conflict whether as extreme as in the novel or more subtle (as I assume in more families), is present. Therefore even though this particular story represents a wild extreme, a reader is still able to identify with the characters and their humanity (or lack there of). I mention this not to create normalcy out of the events that occur but to explain perhaps why I was so compelled to finish a story as troubling as Sharp Objects. I recommend this book, but only to those who can handle a story that is not in anyway a comfortable portrayal of family.
Spring Break started with a snow day as you may have read in my last post: students. Stuck inside for a few hours, I hit the ground running on my long list of books to read as quickly as I can within the next 14 days. It is so decadent to know that from now until March 25 my only priorities are to see people I love, relax, and read. The first book tackled was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Yes, this book is technically a young adult book, but before you simply dismiss it hear me out.
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together until all living humans read the book. And then there are books… which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”—Hazel, from The Fault in Our Stars
Revealing the full plot of the book would be an injustice to the complex waters that Green emerges the reader. Teasing out the intersections of love, friendship, sarcasm, coming-of-age, mortality, passion, and purpose, Green’s protagonists, Hazel and Augustus, demand to be brought to life and demand the reader’s utmost attention. It is a bittersweet, poignant story. At times genuinely reflective of angsty teenage melodrama but it is more often about the finding meaning while facing oblivion. Green’s voice defies the categorization of young adult with its raw glimpse into the world of Hazel and Augustus.
“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities … There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbound set. But Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.” —Hazel, from The Fault in Our Stars
I can’t believe I just finished it!! Reading for pleasure during the school year is practically impossible, but when a friend passed along this book to me and said, “I cannot tell you anything about it but that is was amazing,” I knew I needed to make an exception. Each night I would come home with my stack of papers to grade and lessons to plan and stare at the book on the kitchen table. When would I ever get the time to crack it open?
Then two weekends in a row the city of Boston was hit by tremendous snowstorms. I woke early these days to make my coffee, nestle in on the couch and begin reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
As the snow fell in heavy flakes outside my window and as I emptied my coffee cup, the pages ticked off one by one. I wasn’t sure this book would capture my imagination. The first few chapters were good but nothing that compelled me to want to dedicate my day to the story and to the protagonist, Nick Dunne. Early on I didn’t like Nick, so why finish his story? But, my friend had said this was the type of book that you should only read once you have set aside some ours to get lost.
It was about 50 pages in when I became hooked. As the story of murder, intrigue, and possibilities unravelled I found myself squealing with every new twist and turn. Just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, the trajectory takes a sharp turn and leaves you biting your nails in anticipation. I could not gobble up the last 100 hundred pages fast enough. As I approached the last few pages, David called out, “You are almost there. You can do it.” I was hypnotized by Flynn’s tale. Never a fan for CSI or Law and Order, I literally could not stop until the story came to its unexpected conclusion. It was a twisted end and one I am still deciding it I really “liked” or not, but regardless I recommend this book to the next reader. Enjoy the ride.