Tuesday, September 07, 2010

[Books] Book Look: Why Did I Ever, by Mary Robison

Book Look: Why Did I Ever, by Mary Robison: Judging from the blurbs attached to the book jacket, everybody with a recognizable name in the literary world thought Why Did I Ever was a great big handful of chocolate covered awesome. As for me, I just liked it. It's clever and creative and hits the right notes at the right time. Not that I don't have my gripes.

The plot is firmly planted in the post-Oprah universe: Single mom, multiple-divorcee, in therapy, a handful of dysfunctional friends and coworkers, an inability to commit, a daughter addicted to methadone, a homosexual son who has recently suffered a horrific sexual assault. Just like everyone on your block, eh? The lead character, the single mom, is a thoroughly annoying creature nicknamed "Money" -- a self-satisfied smart-ass, who is given to voicing the sort of cryptic quips that make shallow people think she is colorful and that signal that she has hidden depth which you and others just don't have the insight to understand. Meanwhile, her inner monologue indicates she mostly dwells on how much trouble and aggravation everyone else is causing her. God, how I hate such women. If Robison had a real-life model for this character, I'd lay decent odds that I've dated her.

Now, apart from making me sneer disdainfully through half of it, the book is quite good. It is laced throughout with sharp humor. And Money does manage to make a journey from subtle contempt and detached negativity to something approximating gratitude.

Most interesting is the style. Most of the reviews I read of it referred to as minimalist, which is off the mark, or as a diary which is closer but misses the key point. It is in fact web writing in long form. It is presented as what is essentially a series of hundreds of blog posts. In tone, it's the sort of thing you would read on the old school personal blogs folks used to keep (and some still do) (but not me). It has intriguing possibilities and Robison works it well -- indirect thoughts with a spontaneous unfiltered feel to them. Each entry is from one to several paragraphs of events and thoughts that may or may not have relevance outside the ongoing stream. The difference here of course is that they are woven into a coherent narrative. As I said, it's very clever and I suspect it's a good way to avoid any sort of indulgence in delicacy or wordiness (which is all too common in novels), yet it still allows for a striking poetic turn of phrase now and then.

Should you read Why Did I Ever? Yeah. Despite touching on my personal annoyances, it is lively, interesting and entertaining. I'm not going to go as far as calling it chocolate covered awesome, though. Just a good read. Worth your time.