“For our excess we lost everything.”
Here I am, another Oprah Book club selection, continuing to be impressed by the pickings. My edition shows a gloomy black house, enshrouded by fog, perfectly matching up to story’s disconsolate atmosphere.
As I felt myself disappearing into the characters, my initial doubt about adjusting to the semi-unusual writing styled faded. It’s a slow-paced, sedate book where the reader feels as if they’re moving in a dreamy fog with the helpless characters who, despite effort, drift forward toward inevitable tragedy. With talent, Dubus somehow makes their dire situations seem tense, urgent, all while maintaining fuzzy, surreal atmosphere.
Right off I was intrigued by Behrani, even if I was indecisive sometimes on if he was doing right by not selling. Certainly no classic, dashing hero, he holds himself rigid in the face of demeaning profession while wanting to cut loose and better himself by taking it easy and trying a new tactic, which he phrases in his mind as legal theft in America. Even if he holds close to morals in relation such as not striking a woman, he proves a few times he still oversteps his own self-imposed boundaries. His imperfections in the face of his morals makes him human, his regret when he falls makes him sympathetic. Still, even if one admires going as far as you can for the sake of self and family, remember that sometimes all really is just vanity. A man who lives for his family can exclude the well-being and plight of the rest of the world (in this case Kathy and his country) to his personal moral detriment.
I was enraged on behalf of Kathy – no one likes government incompetency – but I ended up repulsed by her later. Her weak spine wasn’t helped by the unrealistic, dopey Lester. She moves through life by avoidance, evading the truth and facing up to stressful issues and ‘small nuances’ like unopened letters from the county. Failed marriages, issues hitting the bottle, soured dreams, she avoids her family when she can so she doesn’t see the disappointment in their eyes and isn’t forced to bear their derision. Meeting the family, I’m sympathetic, they’re jerks, but she is kind of one of those people who you just have to kind of throw your hands up at.
Their lives are ruined in this book, they share this in common. The difference is how they came to that place.
Even if Behrani embraces denial as a way of dealing with his past, and the wife looked away when life treated them well, he at least is trying to climb up to an American dream, unlike Kathy, who gets screwed over not only due to unfair city screw-up, but because she’s put herself in a self-pitying bubble so that tragedy just rolls over her. I felt bad for her - I really did – losing an inheritance and home is a nightmare. It’s her pitiful behavior later which drove the annoying victim-mentality stake deeper. And Lesters just silly, come on.
In conclusion, the reader must wonder, was the house worth it? Its existence as a house was not. What it stood for, the idea of it, perhaps was? Fighting to hold on to home, comfort, inheritance for Kathy? Security and restored dignity for Behrani?
Of course fights in unfairness end bitterly. No one except the child was blameless, but this isn’t a balm to soothe, considering all were also in the right in their own ways.
A simple story which soars with its complexity.
“The truth is life is full of joy and full of great sorrow, but you can't have one without the other.”
“Sometimes in this life, only one or two opportunities are put before us and we must seize them no matter the risk.”
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