Fair warning and full disclosure, I am in a full-blown, full-on mean reds episode, feeling attacked, unloved, unseen, alone, abandoned, belittled, beknighted, befuddled, certain I am going to end my life on the streets, mortified and still unable to face how easy I am to walk away from, turn away from, and so, I am especially self-pitying right now, furious about what I’ve lost, what’s been taken, and what I’ve fucked up, both my pair of sneakers are falling apart, my bullet-shake-maker blew up, I haven’t lost enough weight quickly enough on this diet, I think I’m leaving Twitter, I don’t have any house/pet-sitting bookings in October/November which means I don’t have any private time, and I am just fucking exhausted being me and feeling sad about how being me exhausts other people and so … you’ve been warned. When in this mood and further disappointed by books — which are my solace and my strength, I can get pretty testy.
I live a smallish life, an increasing amount of my happiness has to do with my interaction with the books I read. Literature means a great deal to me. I revere authors and follow them the way others iconize Brangelina and sports figures. So, each year, the announcement of the Man Booker fiction longlist and National Book Award nominees are big events for me. I am excited when there are books on those lists I’ve already read, even more, when there are books there I have loved and championed.
When the opposite is true — when there are books which were buzzy-industry-pushed and heralded by insidery-critic-y-MFA-emperor’s-new-clothes-crowd that I found to be less than great, even annoyingly un-great (if you want to go Tr*mpian about it), I am flummoxed and, in some cases, pissed off. I find it, what’s the word? DEPLORABLE.
So, this year has been something of a drag. First of all, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, [I WROTE ABOUT IT HERE] should win both Booker and NBA. It was at least on the longlist for NBA, but the Booker ignored it completely. Bah. Too, Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton [I WROTE ABOUT IT HERE] is also deserving of a win and made longlist of Booker but was ignored by NBA. Again, Bah. And where, I ask, WHERE?!?! was Idra Novey’s Ways To Disappear? [I WROTE ABOUT IT HERE] which was brilliant as well.
With my reading of —
HOT MILK, Deborah Levy, Hardcover, 218 pages, Bloomsbury USA — I have now read three of the novels shortlisted for the Man Booker fiction prize and while I’ve another on my TBR pile, I am loath to pick it up as I have loathed the others so intensely.
I don’t really like to say ugly things about books. I don’t like to trash on writers. So, to be fair, I hated this less than I hated Eileen [I WROTE ABOUT IT HERE] which has also inexplicably made the short list, but holy mother of all that is holy, WHY MUST EVERYTHING BE SO DANK AND DARK AND DISMAL?
As fate would have it, my copy of HOT MILK was due back at the library TODAY, and so I had to finish reading it yesterday and I planned to do so at a leisurely pace but was called into emergency Mom-duty for rather a longish day with one of her least favorite medical procedures to do with literally having a needle stuck in her eye.
Not to belabor a point, but I’d almost rather have had needles stuck in my eyes than have to have read this unpleasant tale about equally unkind, selfish, unloving daughter and mother messes misunderstanding and cruelly judging one another in a co-dependent, abusive relationship.
Bad enough the premise was so ugly and the characters so disagreeable, but to layer on top of it a level of tortured symbolism and fic-lit-MFA trickery and trumpery thick enough to make me snort and snigger out loud in the waiting room of the eye doctor, and, well. Hmph. Harumph.
My mother is 88. I am — well, of a certain age myself. This waiting room was populated with many such pairings, and, too, some elderly folks without anyone there to help them. As often happens, those unaccompanied elderly folks were confused, somewhat irritable with the staff, all of whom were kind and patient — which does NOT always happen, and for which I was grateful. My mom snapped at me a few times during the day; she dislikes this eye procedure, it takes a long time and it scares her — that she may be more blind than she already is and lose her ability to read is terrifying to her — and so, I know to remain patient. To say yes. To not let this be about me. In fact, before we went to this appointment, I took her to a bookstore so she could shop for large print books. In fact, she had a gift certificate, but large prints are so expensive it only covered part of the cost. In fact, despite not having any jobs lined up for October/November and being in a panic about ending up on the street should I be unfortunate enough to live into my sixties/seventies, I spent the cash I’d allowed myself for the next week on getting her those books and lunch.
So, a book about a mother and child in such explosive and destructive dislike and despair, faux-arted up to be the worst sort of literary masturbatory bullshit — wasn’t in the mood.
Sorry to be so unkind. But, yuck.
And now, I have to run. The library opens at ten and I need to take this book back, happily, and then, off to Momma again. It’s hair day, like every Thursday, and I will do my best not to leave her in her walker in the middle of a road with a truck approaching — unlike the daughter in Hot Milk. Hot fucking mess.
What I need is a little more Garth Greenwell in my life. Would that there were an underground toilet/tearoom round here where I could head to hookup with some hot man in search of company and connection. Alas, Bob Evans is my likely destination today. Life.