Monday, November 23, 2015
I wanted to read this book the moment it came out. I saw the cover (the pretty floral one, not the tacky one of boobs) on a “New Releases” list and have pined for it since.
I ignored the “Madame Bovary meets 50 Shades!!!!!!” blurb across the front, because marketing, and I looked past the horrid cover of the new editions, because marketing (Remember when they made those classics with the Twilight-esque covers? Oh…), but I shouldn’t have. Sometimes warning signs are actually warning signs.
I wanted to read a story about a pretty woman with a troubled mind. I wanted her to be bored and destructive, empowered and lovely - so full of her own misgivings that she is driven to stasis. I wanted this book to be the erotic, literary masterpiece the world so desperately needs. I wanted this book to pull sex out of the realm of smut and into the inner-circle of art. Sometimes I just want too much.
I instead found a book about a boring, flat woman who has a lot of sex and is promptly punished for it - the literal tolling of church bells ticking away her every indiscretion (SHE LIVES NEXT TO A CHURCH - PLEASE!). Anna, our oh-so-complex main character, is revealed to us in a series of wordy descriptions, her interactions with her family told, not shown. Then there is the most clichéd psychiatrist in literature that I’ve ever seen - she speaks in vague, pretentious half-thoughts. She shows up randomly throughout scenes to remind us how troubled Anna is. She is GOING TO A COUNSELOR, YOU GUYS. She’s real messed up!!1!!!rlkmf
There is no such thing as a graceful, subtle symbol here. Essbaum shoves her literary devices down our throats until we’re sore (Imagine how violent this review would be if I had read the book all the way through!). It’s well written in the sense that it’s grammatically correct, but intellectually, it’s more of the same trite bullshit we’ve been trained to want and like. A metaphor does not a literary novel make, and a story about sex doesn’t make you progressive, or empowered, or daring if it’s just reinforcing the idea that being anything but normal makes you broken. Hell, maybe I am wrong. Maybe this book folds in upon itself and Essbaum says, “Isn’t this all so funny?” and we drink wine and revel in satire and cry until we wash away the horrible, horrible first 50 pages of this book and we can all go out later and listen to cool riot grrrl music and everything will be okay.
Maybe I am not being entirely fair. I’m always looking for a Milan Kundera novel – waiting for the story of a relationship that is fervent in its decay, and lyrically told. Affairs that are beautiful because they’re horrible. You know, that sort of thing. When stacked next to the Unbearable Lightness of Being, there’s really only one similarity.