Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

I Just Read a Book and I Don't Know What To Think

by Robison Wells

By amazing coincidence, Jeff's post yesterday brought up some issues I've been thinking about today. He wrote (about the musical "Next To Normal"):

"When I walked out of the play, my boss asked if I liked it. I told him that I’m not sure you can really say you 'liked' a play like that. I was moved by it. I was enthralled by it. I bought the soundtrack and can’t stop humming 'Superboy and the Invisible Girl.' But did I like it? I’m not sure."

Last night as I was going to bed I picked up a small paperback that had come from my publisher as part of a gift package. It was a book they'd released in 2006, and I'd heard nothing about the title or the author.

Earlier in the day I'd been showing a few books to my brother and held this one up: "I'm definitely the target market for this one," I'd said sarcastically. The book is Boy Heaven, by Laura Kasischke, and the cheerful cover shows a teenage girl beneath a cursive title. This looks like a girly book.

My brother read the back:

They planned on a joyride in a convertible on a hot summer day. They planned on skinny-dipping in a beautiful, secluded lake. They planned on making it back to cheerleading camp before anyone noticed they were gone.

The three girls were seventeen, with perfect tans, perfect bodies, and the perfect day. But then Kristy Sweetland smiled . . . at the wrong time . . . in the wrong place . . . at the wrong boys.

And he immediately said, "That's the premise of every slasher movie, ever."

For new readers of mine, I have a nagging rib problem that hurts a lot and that makes it difficult to sleep, so lately I've been staying up late reading. Even though this book didn't look like anything I was remotely interested in (not liking either girly books or slasher movies), I wasn't really eager to read anything on the pile and this one was the shortest.

I finished it in about two and a half hours. I couldn't stop.

Somehow, in a book that first appeared to be a girly slasher pulp, was a beautifully-written, literary gem. I was thoroughly sucked in as the author (who I later learned is a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning poet and English professor) created some of the most rich, intricate characters I've read in years.

The book wasn't easy to nail down: was it horror? Suspense? A character study? I'm not sure. It was bookended in a bizarre way that I still don't think I understand. It was painful and horrible and enlightening and funny all at the same time.

And when I finally finished it and turned off the light I lay there for a long time thinking about it, and I thought about it on the drive to work today, and I thought about it while I was eating lunch.

But do I like it?

It was amazing.

But did I like it?

I don't know. I'm glad I read it. It's not in my top-ten list, and I don't think I want to read it again anytime soon, but I'd defend it vehemently against anyone who criticized it.

I wonder what that says about popular culture--and me--that a book that was probably more thought-provoking than most, that was written more beautifully and skillfully than most, still manages to be on my "I'm not sure what to do with this" list. Is it a matter of genre? Was it just too foreign to me to be able to easily process? Am I too accustomed to standard plotting and character arcs that, although I could recognize the quality, I couldn't couldn't come to love it?

I don't know. But I'm sure I'm going to keep thinking about it.

Have any of you read it? Or read something that brought up similar thoughts?

(FYI: the book contains some strong language and sexual references.)


At 6/01/2010 4:29 PM, Blogger Th. said...


Seems you're not alone: link

At 6/02/2010 12:15 AM, Blogger Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

I stumbled upon your review via the person who linked up my review on here.(I was kind of curious of why this old review I wrote suddenly had some mega hits today, lol)

But yes, my thoughts were just like yours. After I finished the last chapter I remember putting down the book and thinking: What. Just. Happened.

At 6/02/2010 4:19 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Added to my wish list. =)

She's got a lot of books, and they all have sort of a creepy vibe. If they're well written, might be fun to pick up a new author.

At 6/08/2010 8:28 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

sounds like a book I want to read. Can I borrow your copy?


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