Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Being the Lucky One (The Interestings, Eleanor & Park, The Rosie Project)

Guys, I've read some really great books lately. So good that I don't even feel bad that I haven't read any nonfiction yet this year (although I am working on fixing that).  I want to talk about each of them, but first thought I'd ponder on a thought that struck me today.  I've thought about it before, but it really sunk in again today.

It's the idea of being the Lucky One.  Lucky in love, lucky in life, (what have you).  It's easy to look at being lucky as an extension of being grateful—I'm lucky I have wonderful parents.  But it gets interesting when you consider being lucky in the face of personality or lifestyles because so much hinges on perception.

In her song, Alison Krauss sings, "Give you a song and a one night stand, you'll be looking at a happy man, 'cause you're the lucky one."  While her song makes it sound as if she doesn't actually envy the person in question, there is some truth to that sentiment. It must be easier to live a life free of contemplation, longing, and regret.  Is it luckier to be the person who thinks deeper and observes more, or the one unbothered by convictions?

It's Complicated: I started thinking about this again because my husband will soon be going on a sailing trip, while I'll be staying home taking care of the kiddos...which spurred loads of feeling-sorry-for-myself.  Not because I want to sail also, but because I feel like I am easy to leave behind.  Honestly, this is mostly emotion rather than truth but I started thinking...would I rather be the one who finds it easier to leave?  Sometimes that sounds quite enticing. But if that meant giving up all my deep thoughts and contemplations, then I'm cool.  I'd rather feel deeply.  But that's a matter of perspective if I've ever seen one...things are never that simple.

That's what I liked about The Interestings.  Meg Wolitzer doesn't pretend that life is simple, that you have one main story arc and none of the other details matter.  We Are Complicated.  And so are her characters (and I love that).  Still, the first third of the book had me convinced that I'd be bored until the very end. You see, I didn't much like the main character.  Jules wasn't a terrible person, but she nurtured envy, and that's a terrible place to be. She was jealous of her friends Ethan and Ash: they were the lucky ones.  Jules thought they were lucky because they had money, but I think they were lucky because they didn't suffer from a paralyzing envy.

I loved the way she told the story, and I loved how real the story was.  The story flipped between different times and different points of view, but it was handled so delicately, so expertly, that the telling was always smooth and easy to follow. If you enjoy themes that make you ponder and characters you feel you know, this is a book worth reading.  All 480 pages of it. (It doesn't feel that long, honest.)

And then there's Eleanor & Park.  Have you read this? Oh my.  My heart felt bruised after closing the cover.  I don't even know how to talk about it without gushing spoilers all over the place.  Set in the '80s (but not obnoxiously so) in Nebraska, we find Eleanor and Park: two teens whose story is anything but normal.

From the first glance, it is obvious that Eleanor doesn't fit in. As the story builds, however, we see what we've really known all along: we all have ways that we don't fit in, and we all just want to be loved in spite of it.  There are some serious issues that Rowell addresses that complicate the story, but what felt truly unique to me was the way she captured the incredible magic of young love. From the shocking realization that you have feelings for someone, to the unimaginable sensation when holding hands for the first time, and finally the wonder of having your quirks and secrets understood.  So often those things are underestimated or ignored, superimposing older experiences onto the relative innocence of youth.  I married my high school sweetheart, so perhaps that created an extra special connection to this book, but I think we can all relate to the awkwardness and novelty of a first love.

Finally, The Rosie Project. I tend to gravitate to depressing books, generally speaking...those stories
that I think are heartwarming are actually pretty sad.  When I am asked for a "happy book" recommendation, I come up rather empty.  It isn't that I don't like happy, it's just that happy is usually boring or typical.  Not so with The Rosie Project.  The writing is fairly simple and light, in contrast with the story itself which could have been written in a more serious tone.  The humorous touch serves to deepen the connection with the story, which really is a rather sweet one.

Don, professor of genetics, has some social-interaction-differences and has decided that the best way to go about finding the ideal mate is to develop a properly thorough questionnaire.  We all, at some point, have thought about what qualities would comprise the ideal mate.  Someone like ourselves, right?  Rarely do our ideas pan out in reality, and the same is the case for Don.  His journey to happiness brings many smiles along the way—I've finally found a happy book to recommend.

3 comments:

  1. What an interesting lead in to your three reviews this week. I have the feeling that I'd rather be the one who could leave easily...

    I haven't read The Interestings yet, but I am in complete agreement with you re: The Rosie Project (which I read twice last year) and Eleanor & Park (which I'm in the process of reading a second time right now.). They're both so great. I think E&P is Rowell's best and most substantive work by far. And how amazing was the way she captured falling in love for the first time? And the way she makes it clear that falling in love is an act of bravery in and of itself? Such a bittersweet book.

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  2. All of these books ended up on my fave list. I loved The Interestings and could have followed those characters through another twenty years. E&P was just so, so, sweet and full of angst. I loved Park and I loved his mother. Rosie... surprisingly funny. I adored Don. So, Sheldon Cooper.

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  3. I loved The Interestings. Especially the camp called Spirit in the Woods. Great book.

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