|(photo from Amazon.com)|
I would like to digress and talk about photos of ourselves, because I think that's a subject near to a blogger's heart. Here is the author photo I kept looking at on the book jacket as I was reading the book:
|(photo from the jacket, by Marion Ettlinger)|
And here is the photo on Wikipedia, which I saw when I went to find out more about the author:
|(photo from Wikipedia, credited to David Shankbone)|
I do empathize, and I suspect we ALL do, with the feelings that cause an author or blogger to use something more like the first image. Here are two reasons not to:
1. The shock of seeing the second image AFTER the first is far more severe than it would have been if I'd only seen the second. The second photo would have been a normal picture. But because I was familiar with the first picture, the difference between the two CRIED OUT. If a blogger is ever planning to be seen in public, it would be better to be frank from the very beginning.
2. I liked her far, far better when I saw the second picture. I think people think to themselves, "People will only like me if they think I'm thin and pretty." But the thing is, I think we admire people who are thin and pretty, but that most of us are also a little put off by it until we get to know the person. Also, photos made to look thin and pretty may carry an unintended attitude the photographed person isn't aware of: the photographed person is thinking, "Whew, this angle hides my double chin!" and not noticing that in order to hide that chin they've had to make themselves look bitchy or vapid or silly or unfriendly or unapproachable or unrelatable.
When I was reading the book and seeing the first picture, I had the author summed up as a girl in her twenties, right out of a writer's MA program after attending expensive prep school; grew up rich; now kind of a privileged brat trying to shock people just for the sake of making them uncomfortable. I was a little cranky that it turned out she was making it work, because I'd prefer to see such people taken down. When I saw the second picture and read on Wikipedia that the author is 51 years old, I had to completely re-evaluate my impressions of the book. (Paul: "Well, how long ago was the book written?" Swistle: "2012.")
I think when people choose pictures of themselves that they find flattering, they do know that they're trying to alter the way people see them---but what they don't realize is that they could be altering it with a net effect of WORSE.
Anyway. On to the book. I knew from the flap that there would be some violence at the beginning, so I was braced for it. I read the first scene of violence, which was only described by a character, not witnessed by the narrator, and I closed the book. Nope, not reading this. A minute went by. I opened it up again and kept reading. I came to the second scene of violence, which the narrator does witness, and I closed the book even more decisively. No. I'm not reading this book. Five seconds passed, and I went back to reading.
For me, continuing to read was the right decision: the really bad stuff was over after that, and was tempered considerably by later events.
Another reason I almost stopped reading is that this is a book that employs a method I'm sure has a name but I don't know what it is. I would call it "unreliable narrator"---which is funny, because I just Googled that and it IS what it's called. This reminds me of when I was trying to figure out what "AKA" could stand for, and I thought, "Well, it's kind of like saying 'also known as'....oh."
Anyway, you can't trust the narrator to tell you the truth, and I generally HATE that. There are two Agatha Christie books with unreliable narrators, and I will never read them again because that makes me so angry. But it can make for a compelling plot, because you keep thinking if you keep reading you'll find out what's REALLY going on. And there are enough hints in this book that even though many things are left non-revealed, I didn't end up feeling tricked. It's not that the narrator LIES, it's more like he's not processing information correctly HIMSELF, so he can't quite relate it accurately to us either. I ended up with a feeling of "Boy, humans sure do kid themselves a lot about their own behavior and/or sure do tell the story one-sidedly to others." (Another issue close to a blogger's heart.) I did, however, feel like the narrator's issues were too severe to have been so easily resolved, and there were a number of places where I'd been pretty sure we were working up to a big plot twist but then was irritated when nothing ever happened with it.
From my author assessment, you will have received the correct impression that there are parts that I feel the author wrote To Be Shocking. But I wasn't SURE about it: that is, I'm still not sure the author DID write them "just to be shocking"; she might have written them because that's how she writes and that's how she saw the story going. In descriptions of her writing, the word "fearless" keeps coming up. I could go along with that.
Both plot and dialogue seemed unreal to me, but it was hard to tell how on-purpose that was. I probably thought "What?" a thousand times. I kept reading parts aloud to Paul, because I couldn't figure out if (1) the author had no feel for dialogue, or (2) the author was trying to be funny, or (3) the author was trying to Show Something with the way the people were talking, or (4) kind of all three.
Also, if I hadn't read on Wikipedia that the author had a daughter, I would have said she not only didn't have kids but had no experience with kids. The kid part comes across as a 1980s fantasy movie where the single career woman with no interest in children gets stuck with someone else's. (But I liked it, the way I also liked those movies.)
I don't know, I don't think I'm telling this well, because if I read this description I would be like "NO WAY IS THIS BOOK FOR ME"---and yet it WAS for me. When I was reading it, I kept being eager to get back to it, and that doesn't happen with very many books. I don't want to read it over again, but I want there to be MORE of it---two more volumes! three! four! MORE ABOUT THIS STORY. That seems like recommending.