Published September 27, 2013 | By thea
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed Cheryl Strayed changed her name to “Strayed” when she couldn’t stop straying from her husband; this fact makes her loveably odd—who does that?—and pretentious. Yet because this is a memoir of her life in her twenties, we forgive her. The book’s inviting frame, a memoir about the death of her mother and her decision to hike the Pacific Coast Trail by herself, is, in a way a ruse: the book’s strength is that it is about ordinary youth, its extreme vanity, its foolishness, its grandiosity and despair, its ignorance and bravado and its inevitable stumbling blocks. As much as her childhood poverty, her bereavement, and her hiking distinguish her, the book’s power is in her ordinariness and her willingness, not to boast of her strength in face of adversity (who among us doesn’t face adversity after all?) but to reveal the details of herself that betray a quiet universality: her insatiable hunger after hiking and the delectable first bites of a chocolate bar, the unbelievable thirst she feels and her new passion for Snapple Lemonade, her relatable decision to send herself a brand new black lace bra to wear after a grueling hike and a shower in the hopes of finding someone to undress her and delight in discovering it. These smaller details kept me riveted. The Silent Wife, by ABA Harrison I’ve lived in Chicago for ten years and I think The Silent Wife captures the essence of the city more than any book I’ve read: the Ferrari of a successful, self-made man zipping down the cavernous streets of the Loop, the Lakeside aerie of the would-be perfect couple hovering over Michigan Avenue, two best friends digging into beer and burgers at The Drake, and above all, the all-American sexism. The American dream is portrayed as one that is achievable for him and doomed for her. When the silent wife in question, Jodi—dutiful, loyal, culinarily gifted and professional, albeit more devoted to her household–comes to this realization, she crumbles, revealing a world of passion and rage that is wholly human. It’s a wonderful moment for a reader who is close to disbelieving in the wife’s powers of dull containment and then is absolutely fulfilled by her startling dissembling. Days of Abandonment by, Elena Ferrante Elena Ferrante is an incredible writer. The slow incremental stacking of sentences creates a slow burn. The emotion is so real it scorches. I was sobbing as I read this book of a woman’s undoing by her husband’s affair with a younger woman. It sounds cliché, but the power with which she conveys her protagonist’s reactions take it far beyond cliché. We come to understand, truly, what a human betrayal is, why it debilitates, and what are its costs. Quiet, by Susan Cain Clearly there aren’t two types of people in the world and many people contain traits of introverts and those of extroverts, the classic labels created by Carl Jung. Cain explores the deeper meanings of these labels and how our culture perhaps devalues the power of introversion. This is the book’s biggest contribution: to point out the incalculable value of creativity, which arises from those who work alone instead of in groups. Introverts are often artists, scientists, thinkers, whose revelations come to them through time and solitude. At times, a reader may feel too much the defensiveness of a true introvert at work, trying, in that conflicted way introverts sometimes have, to assert herself. Cain is a self-avowed introvert and admits struggling for years to learn public speaking. The roots of why she felt compelled to do this, other than for her need to publicize this book, must be in her own self-doubt: An introvert can easily write with no fear of public speaking and with no real need for it (aside from the need for marketing one’s book which today is perhaps a real concern.) Although Cain’s repeated focus on her need to learn public speaking it comes off feeling like a conflicted desire for attention, or, worse, greed. Just when she has reigned me in so forcibly—I am an introvert and my daughter is too—she has to turn me off with her, highly viewed Ted talk! Despite this perhaps unconscious lack of self-acceptance on her part, I was completely captivated by her descriptions of ordinary American life and its bias towards extroverts in school and the workplace. Equally impressive is her grounding in the work of Kahn, a psychologist who’s experiments with thousands of infants lay the groundwork for a deeper physiological understanding of introversion and extroversion and introversions relationship to sensitivity: highly reactive infants grew up to be introverts while those who were less responsive to the same stimuli grew up to be extroverts. Highly sensitive people, require less stimulation and less sensitive people require more external stimulation. It’s a fascinating study that Cain elucidates well and makes Quiet worth reading. Henderson The Rain King, by Saul Bellow I’m a writer and an aesthete and I love language so much as to forgive the giants of American literature, Updike, Roth Cheever, their sexism. But I can’t forgive Bellow. Where the others elucidate sexism as a part of their culture and time, and are able to transcend it and discover the basic humanity in their characters, Bellow can’t. I loved Henderson The Rain King when I read it as a teenager for its imaginative flight, its sentences and descriptions and its wonderful conceit—Henderson abandons ordinary life and goes to Africa to start anew—but couldn’t love it this time as much as a I’d hoped too. Forgive me, Chicago and literati but Bellow, who strips his female characters of any shred of humanity, making them into grotesque animals, more foreign and beast-like than any animals he encounters in Africa, is not great.