I told you I’d share my final 2 in a future post, so I thought I’d start the month off by doing just that. I’m sure you’ve all been on the edge of your seats (pfft…). Last time, it was all about the ladies. This go ’round belongs to the male characters who caught hold of me and haven’t let go. I’ve learned a great deal from these gents and identify hugely with them. I didn’t want their stories to end.
Charlie is a high school freshman hoping to find where he fits in this world. His best and only friend killed himself in middle school, leaving him alone and with a lot of emotional baggage, which isn’t made any easier by the sometimes strained family dynamic at home, his extreme sensitivity, and a social ineptitude that in the beginning leaves him stranded — a lonely and confused island amidst people who all seem to know where they belong. So many issues are explored in this book: abuse, abortion, friendship, love, identity, and goals to name a few. The film is a lite/low-cal version of the book. Though I understand (from a “let’s reach the widest audience possible” angle) why they chose to change certain things, I still feel like doing so meant missing an important opportunity to get people (who are unlikely to read the book) talking. I do really enjoy the film, just as something separate from the book.
I didn’t read this story until the year before the movie came out. After I finished it I wanted to kick myself for not reading it sooner, like back when I was in high school. In many ways, I was Charlie. I rarely root for characters as much as I did for him, and the moment when he came home from the football game where he met Patrick and Sam for the first time struck me so vividly when I read it. It reminded me of when I made my first friend in high school (after moving to a new state) and how relieved and elated I was. There’s nothing like feeling you belong, whether it be someplace or with someone.
I didn’t know that other people thought things about me. I didn’t know that they looked. I was sitting on the floor of a basement of my first real party between Sam and Patrick, and I remembered that Sam introduced me as her friend to Bob. And I remembered that Patrick had done the same for Brad. And I started to cry. And nobody in that room looked at me weird for doing it. And then I really started to cry.
Bob raised his drink and asked everyone to do the same.
And the whole group said, “To Charlie.”
I didn’t know why they did that, but it was very special to me that they did. Especially Sam. Especially her.
When you take it upon yourself to become a student of the thing you’re most passionate about, you run the risk of hating it eventually. But before hatred comes constant analysis. As a writing student, it’s difficult for me to read something without picking it apart. So when I find a piece of writing that captures my mind and heart so thoroughly that I forget to analyze it and purely enjoy it as a reader instead of a writer, THAT’s when I know I’ve stumbled onto something truly great. This book is what I aspire to as a fiction writer. The surprising narrative structure, the brilliant insights, the insecurities laid bare, yet with a good amount of objectivity thrown in as well… it’s incredible. I had never read E.L. Doctorow before picking this up. After I read it, I checked out some of his previous work. This book is a LOT different than anything he’s written before and, perhaps because of that, I found it hard to really get into his older work. But thanks to this book, I made a promise to myself to keep an eye out for anything he publishes in the future.
The story is about a man who believes himself to be a doom-bringer in the lives of others. Whether it’s his wives (the first divorced him after the accidental death of their daughter; the second was killed in the 9/11 attacks), complete strangers, or persons who fall somewhere in-between, he believes he’s just one of those people who causes others misfortune. He’s telling the story of his life intercut with other (sometimes tenuously related) observations to a psychologist (a stand-in for the reader), and the doctor in question is trying to figure out what it all means. Andrew starts out talking about himself in the third person, then switches to first, then alternates at will between the two for the rest of the story, in imitation of how the mind is able to think about itself. The winding nature of the narrative (in the stream-of-consciousness style, mimicking thought) can be off-putting if you don’t see it coming, and people who like their stories laid out in a traditional and easily digestible way don’t tend to like this book, so there’s a warning for you. It’s a brain-bender for sure, but I think it’s worth tackling…especially when you reach the end and he (indirectly) reveals what I interpret as his reason for telling this story. I absolutely got a lot out of it, from a writing AND reading perspective.
We do pale emulations of the group brain as if in envy. We give ourselves temporarily to a larger social mind and we perform according to its dictates the way individual computers cede their capacities to their network. Perhaps we long for something like the situation these other creatures have — the ants, the bees — where the thinking is outsourced. Cloud thinking, a chemical ubermensch.
What fictional characters/stories have made a lasting impact on you?