I started reading it that evening, and found myself unable to stop until I closed the final page. I was definitely drawn to the bitter end of the story itself, which read like a modern Anna Karenina, but more, I found myself reveling in the language. It has been such a long time since I’ve read anyone who clearly loved and had full command of the English language. This is not to say that there are not good books out there, but there was such a beauty to words; and that beauty in such juxtaposition to the tragedies it described. In prose that jumped from one scene to the next, from interior to exterior life, within chapters and without warning, the only surprise was the intense cohesiveness, there was no sense of jarring.
There were raw and graphic parts, and I found myself wincing away from them, but realized all the same how true were the descriptors as the heroine fell further away from herself and morality. The psychological intensity of the words, the train wreck unfolding with the illusion of slow motion, like a catastrophic avalanche, were almost overwhelming.
The story was unsettling, but moreover I found myself thinking about the nature of writing, wondering how many lives the author herself had lived, and the necessity of chipping away all of the glamours in herself to reach this place within that allowed her to write without fetters or fear. How much writing is crippled by our anxiety about unfolding too many leaves and revealing everything at our core, whether experience or imagination? How much do we miss in our own interactions with others by putting on mask after mask? Adding a curl here, tucking a fold there, a desperate attempt to conform to what we believe each person wishes us to be.
It is not that such thoughts have never crossed my mind. I have wrestled with this many times before both in writing and in life. This book brought it all to the surface again, merely through the command and clear love of the language. As the character unraveled, taking on more and more parts in a performance she seemed to believe was for her own pleasure, but so clearly was orchestrated to please everyone but herself and to an inevitably disastrous end, the author seemed to do the opposite, shedding layer after layer of what she must have feared readers, society, the “other” at large would think of her or read into her words. It had such a clarifying effect on me.
The more I contemplated the dichotomy of the author and the work, the more I mentally writhed with the discomfort of questioning my own writing (paltry and infrequent though it is) and even my Self and path. What makes us who we are? How much do we conform to the needs and expectations of others? How much of that is good and selfless and right? How much is a betrayal of ourselves and an abdication of our one and only life? Where are the answers found? How do we know they are true?
I guess it was about time for a life altering existential crisis, as long as everything is in upheaval anyway.