Saturday, March 23, 2013

Anagrams (60th Book)

Anagrams is the last book that I purchased from Powell's, the largest book store in Portland. It is a memorable moment for me, because the trip to the Oregon coast led to me dating my boyfriend. Now that I'm finished my last book from there, maybe we will have to go back! Our discussion of books as we wandered through the aisles, is one of the reasons we started dating.

This book impacted me in a huge way. It is beautiful poetry spun out into a story that changes with every page. It is a story, that for me at least, played with every single on of my heart strings and left me with a sense of philosophical wonder, and existential melancholy.

The novel follows Benna Carpenter's journey through life as she tries to make sense of her self in the day to day mediocrity that she finds her self in. The first  few chapters involve several different anagrams or versions of Benna's life. Friends and lovers are shuffled, careers change hands between characters, and the central conflict switches focus. The last two thirds of the novel are "real" life, but with trouble that we are seeing it through the eyes of an unreliable narrator.

I was struck by the themes in the novel which are themes that are quite prevalent for me at the moment: love, mediocrity, greatness, and being vulnerable before others. I am in a crossroads in my life where I have no idea what is next. I am looking at a potential move, a probably career change and and likely a change in my single status. As I contemplate a move to the city, It is looking like I will potentially have to take a few steps backward in my career goals. Coming at this stage in my life this seems like a blow to my sense of self. The main character Benna struggles with some of the same feelings as she finds herself nowhere that she would want to be at 33. She has a brilliant comment about this stage of life, one that is a constant theme in my boyfriend and I's discussions. "... that awful  stage between the age of twenty-six to thirty-seven known as stupidity. It's when you don't know anything...and you don't even have a philosophy about all the things you don't know".

Parts of the book are all silliness and frivolity. The title of the main body of the book is called "The Nun of that". The book also plays with several rather silly word anagrams. The narrator has three of the same classes on poetry with each of the sessions varying in silliness on the inane thing she tells them, and the themes for poems that she forces them to write. Benna and her sometimes, neighbour, sometimes friend, sometimes lover Gerard have the funniest puns that they say to each other.

The book is also about loss, connection and the fear that prevents us from making deep and meaningful relationships. The novel had me in sad tears by the end of it, both for myself, but also for the narrator. I think she presents in a very meaningful way the human condition about the troubles in connecting to others on a deep level. One of the repeated phrases throughout the novel is "Life is sad. Here is someone" Although that is a sad and disheartening statement I think it is also accurate. We fall in love with people who make us a feel a little less lonely. We are friends and lovers with people who we think "get" us on a soul level. In a world full of disconnection it is nice to finally be seen by someone.

Here are a few quotes that stuck out for me:

"People have lives. As difficult as your own has been, there are others whose lives have been more so".

"words are all you need for love"

"you can not be grateful without possessing a past"

And the final one, a silly one:

"People didn't get married, because they had found someone. It wasn't a treasure hunt. It was more like musical chairs. Wherever you were when the music of being single stopped, that's where you sat".

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is an honest look at how we make a life out of mediocrity and what we do when our lives are not what we would have them be. It is  frighteningly raw self analysis of what is truly important in life and one that I would say is not for the faint of heart. That being said, it is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone, particularly those between the ages of "stupidity"!

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