This was a hard book to read. And I have been staring at the screen trying to write this review for longer then I should admit. Where to start… There are plenty of plot summaries out there, so I am going to skip that. Instead, I will tell you about the roller coaster of emotions that I experienced while reading this beautiful book.
The author is very talented when it comes to describing something so that you not only imagine it in your mind, but so that you could close your eyes and almost actually feel the story around you. The description in the beginning about what it felt like to be burned gave me goose bumps. I felt sick to my stomach and could almost feel the heat myself. The way he describes things – so detailed and yet it was totally appropriate and heart breaking to read all at the same time.
The narration style was interesting too. It was a great balance between first person and the stories that Marianne (our other main character) tells in 3rd person. And yet, it was a little disarming feeling the narrator talk to me the way he does. There are plenty of books that are in first person (love it or hate it, Twilight – which I love for the YA/pure fun/not exactly great writing that it is – is first person too, but the writing won’t speak to the literature aficionado because of what it is) that I have read that don’t disarm, disturb and thrill, overjoy, depress and just all out get to me the way this one did. There are moments of pure joy and moments of utter terror and sadness. I was crying one minute and laughing out loud the next. It was a juxtaposition that puzzled me and thrilled me simultaneously. It was unlike any other book I have read in a very long time.
The narrator is unapologetic about his frankness. His lack of ability to feel and his shallowness made him hard to like in the beginning, yet how could you not feel sorry for him at the same time given the terrible burning he suffers in the first 10 pages. We don’t know that he’s getting what he karmically deserves (after all, merely being in the porn industry and doing drugs doesn’t mean someone deserves to suffer like he does) – although admittedly, we don’t know that he’s not either, but the suffering that is described when we learn of the burning is enough to make a reader have sympathy (at least a little anyway) for someone who has behaved much worse then our protagonist. And it was really sort of alarming for the narrator to apologize for getting so graphic, the nauseous was instantly replaced with a chuckle when I read that – it felt like one of those movies where the character turns and looks into the camera and addresses the audience.
The author can turn a phrase with the best of them. Some of my favorites: “There was the Dachau of my face.” “She has what I’d always called a lemming ass – that is, an ass that you would follow right over the edge of a cliff.” “Society pays lip service to the idea that beauty is only skin deep, but who understands like we do?” “It comforted me that love was her soul’s natural condition and not an aberration built on fantasies.” “Whaddaya think you’re looking at, Crispy Critter?” And what I think is my absolute favorite (besides the one that I will leave out due to the desire to keep the language here rated PG) “‘Do you really believe’ she asked, ‘that I ever loved you because of your body?'” And they are phrases that describe things ranging from soul deep love and porn quality sex. The author crafted each sentence like a work of art (not unlike Marianne’s gargoyles).
There is something that feels so honest and truthful about the words, the sentences, the dialogue, that it is hard not to feel like you are living the part of one of the characters. And the stories that Marianne tells, are so tragic and romantic I think the story about the Japanese glass blower could bring the toughest man to tears. Each time, I had hope that the story would have a happy ending, and the author takes some really depressing stories that brought tears to my eyes and was able to turn the tears of sadness into tears of something else – not happiness, but appreciation for – and desire to know – love so very pure.
What made this book hard for me was the character’s inability to be anything other then helpless. He finally feels something and surrenders to love and he is helpless to do anything to save the love of his life. Some might think there is a religious undercurrent to the book. While I agree that one of the characters was motivated deeply by faith and religion it’s interesting to see that such faith and religiousness is blamed, in effect, on a mental illness. And yet, interestingly, I felt like the author was giving me the choice. I could choose to believe in Marianne and what she believed (religion and all) or I could choose to say she was mentally ill. The author doesn’t really try to sway the reader either way – which I give him credit for. Leaving me the option to choose which to believe. As a result, I felt like the real message was about not faith, not mental illness or anything else but how wonderful love can be, how much it can make a person grown and change, even when it is love that you can not hold on to for some reason. It’s about the power and everlastingness of love.
It was well worth the read. And I will read it again. And probably again and again.