Ah! There’s nothing like a cold day to lie in bed and read….If you’re a bibliophile like me, you probably have a stack of books or spread out in every room of the house at varying degrees of delved into-ness. Last night I finished the Heart autobiography: Kicking and Dreaming. Not bad as far as rock bios go. I do love those girls, and it was a quick read.
Next, I really need to finish the entire Prydain series before I get too far into the first Game of Thrones book. I must admit I’m late in the game (pun intentional) but I’ve finally started watching the series and I’m bingeing my way through the second season this weekend. I supposed I’ve been sidetracked off my Gothic reading course by a bit of fantasy, what what better genre to be distracted by?
Today, at the top of my stack (albeit reluctantly so) is a book I’m obliged to read for the local book club I joined last month. I’m happy to have joined the group and I was initially open to reading a book I’d never choose to read on my own. A book is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. At first I was turned off by its “chick lit” cover (a genre I avoid like the plague), but I recall cockily remarking to my friend who is also in the book club that I’d be able to knock the book out in a few hours. Wrong. This novel grabbed me by my nonexistent balls and began to slowly strangle me in a miasmic, chthonic swamp of all the family shit I’ve spent my entire life trying to escape–mostly through art and literature. I turn to art and literature to lift my spirit, even if it’s describing the most graphic act of violence in a horror novel or Greek tragedy. To (badly) paraphrase The Poetics, Aristotle asserts that what can’t be tolerated in life is beautiful to contemplate in art, and is healing for the spirt through catharsis. Tragic pleasure is a paradox, the ancient genius explained. Happy endings don’t make us happy, but give us a bloodbath and we are cleansed.
Well, this novel–and I admit I’m not quite finished–better give me a bloodbath at the end because nothing is more depressing, and the antipode of catharsis, then a work of art that represents “real life” so much it only underscores the true horror of our existence in terms of smothering dysfunctional families, the pointlessness of hopes and dreams, and the inevitability of aging and death. No thanks. I’ll take Clytemnestra any day.
That is not to say that the Pulitzer Prize winning Anne Tyler isn’t a very good writer. She certainly is. I’ve dog-eared quite a few pages with descriptions like: She was like certain supermarket vegetables that run from green to withered without ever ripening. Lovely turn of phrase, but there is a reason I suffer from mild agoraphobia, literally “fear of the marketplace.” I need a certain heroic absurdity in the stories I read, and that doesn’t happen in the vegetable aisle.
Last week I ran into a neighbor who is also in the book club. I asked her what she thought of the novel so far. She groaned, then I groaned. So much pain, I said. I know, she said, adding, and she is such a good writer, she makes us feel that pain. Yeah…. I trailed off.
Who the fuck wants pain? Not me. With that in mind, I think I will bump off the next book in the stack (the last of the Prydain series) for something that looks like it will guarantee me the catharsis I seek.
Postscript: This afternoon I finished the novel. A passage near the end popped out at me: How plotless real life was! In novels, events led up to something. In his mother’s diaries, they flitted past with no apparent direction. The same can be said for this book, although having finished it I am left with a bittersweet feeling. Being pushed beyond one’s comfort zone can be good in life and in reading. I have a feeling this story will stay with me (even if I don’t want it to) as I return to the safety of my psycho killers and dragons.