I have decided to write a review of this book, but it is sensitive territory, I think, and I don’t want to make anybody feel from my review the way I feel from the book. I am not giving the book a star rating because I can’t tell if it is a good book or not through the amount that I hate it on a personal level, and I feel like giving it a low rating would discount other people's experiences of tragedy or something. (Okay, after almost a year of considering it, I did decide to rate this book. Sorry, guys.) I can’t even tell if I think it is a deeply false book, or if it is just deeply false to my life. This is probably one of those experiences of wrong place/wrong time. I think if I had seen The Notebook
in high school instead of after college, I would not have hated it, just like if I had read The Piper’s Son
some other time, maybe I would not have hated it. This is also one of those times when I should have stopped early on and not pushed through. Why have I not learned this lesson yet? Anyway, I’m sorry I hate this book so much because so many of my wonderful friends love it. You will say I didn’t understand, and that will be true.
It seems like Marchetta tends to write something similar to the Job story. Job was never one of my favorite stories from the Bible (being more of a Jonah and Ruth girl myself), but it was my dad’s favorite for a little while, during a more lucid time in his life, so I have done some thinking on it. This book reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad about Job once. In my memory, which I think I have tailored to my reading of this book, my dad was talking about why he loved Job. The story starts out by telling you that Job is God’s chosen and someone with no faults. The author tells you, and so you know, that none of the things that happen to Job are punishment. And then, right away, God makes a bet with the devil that Job will never turn against Him, and He unleashes the devil on Job just to prove it.
In the first page, maybe second, the devil destroys Job’s whole life, and it only takes a sentence or two. He burns down Job’s farm and kills his livestock; a building collapses on all of Job’s children, maybe spouses and grandchildren, killing them instantly; and then Job’s body falls apart with boils and scabs and whatnot. Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die, and they go their separate ways. Everyone Job knows abandons him. But, that is not what the story is about. That is all just preface. The story is actually about three of Job’s “friends,” who come and visit him, and who are total pompous assholes. They sit around for the entire story, trying to work out for Job what he did to deserve God’s wrath. It is actually an annoying story to read, to me, because the stuff these guys say is so unbearably windbaggy. Then there is a cool part at the end where God comes by and says, “Who are you to ask why this happened? I’m God, I created the behemoth, and you’re nothing.” Old Testament God is so much more interesting than New Testament God. Anyway, my dad loved that this story about ultimate tragedy is mostly about human blame.
My friend was saying the other day that life feels like she used to have all of these warm winter coats wrapped around her and suddenly they’ve been stripped off and the wind is chill. That’s it exactly to me. And I feel like Marchetta tries to write characters whose coats have been stripped off, but to me she fails, and that leaves me confused and bitter at the emptiness of the stories. I do not want to question anyone’s experience of loss, but watching Marchetta’s kids does not feel like watching loss to me, though I think it is supposed to. Job feels more like someone left in the wind. Because tragedy might be part of nature, but the chill wind is people. All of Marchetta’s characters experience tragedy, but then they are surrounded by so many people who just want to devote their lives to helping and encouraging that it is false to me.
I think I wouldn’t hate it, like I probably wouldn’t hate The Notebook
, if so much of it didn’t eerily resonate with me. I have said and done those things, had those experiences, or at least known a close friend or two who did. So, then, the ultimate hugs and puppies feel like deliberate falseness injected into a very real story. I take them personally, and they are very effective messages that hurt my feelings a lot. They are “friends” sitting around saying, well, look how similar this person’s life is to yours, and everybody fell all over themselves to give this person bags of diamonds when they were sad. And I don’t even want to make it out like I have some terrible life, or people are sooooo mean to me, because I totally don’t and they obviously aren’t. I just think Marchetta, like Nicholas Sparks, throws in natural tragedy – death, depression – for emotional impact, and then shies away from hard truths. Like, what if every single bad feeling ever between characters was not just a silly misunderstanding? What if people actually didn’t
like each other and that’s why they were assholes? I am not a fan of the theory that people are assholes to each other because they just love each other so much
. I think it is more often because they don’t. I feel very uneasy about the opposite message.
Marchetta takes away a scarf, which we hear rumors that a character had before the story began, and then replaces it with snow gear, a hazmat suit, and a plastic bubble. I do not want to see characters suffer more, but it feels manipulative to use real tragedy to facilitate the Grease
story. For whatever reason, the specific things that sent me through the roof in the story were 1. Seriously, dude, your dad forgot your name (or forgot who you were, or whatever, I don’t remember) one time and then turned from alcoholism because of it, and you’re going to pull a James Dean over it? Get over yourself. 2. The deal with the partly-deaf co-worker needed not to happen. That dragged on for so long, and it was so obvious that the guy was going to have hearing issues. And, wow, the moral of this story is . . . 3. (my biggest issue) The conversation Georgie had with her friend where the friend says, “If only you’d taaaaalk to us!!” and then helps her get her boyfriend back. That conversation almost made me throw the book. It my experience, that is not how that conversation plays out. In my experience, that conversation plays out like it does in Job, not with a fun shopping trip after. At another time in life, I think I would have read it and hoped it somehow related to reality, like I think I would have hoped with The Notebook
. But now I read it and just feel bitter and old and confused. I don’t want these kids to stop having fun or even get off my lawn, but I need a little easier transition between before and the after of this ABC Home Makeover.