Such high hopes. Then, like a popped balloon, my hopes come back to earth in little pieces. I wasn't disappointed in Heidi Julavits's The Effect of Living Backwards because it was bad book, but because my expectations were so high. If I went in to this without a bias, I may have thought otherwise. But I didn't. I had a bias, a good bias. I wanted to read The Mineral Palace years ago when it first came out and I've been following Julavits around since then. I wanted to like Effect more than I initially did, so I gave myself sometime to think about it. An hour later, nothing, nada.
It was a confusing book. She, the protagonist, Alice, was on a plane with her sister Edith that got hijacked, but this was no ordinary hijacking. Instead of the normal demands for the release of prisoners or some sort, these hijackers play mind games. Not only do the play mind games, we learn they were trained in these methods at International Institute for Terrorist Studies in Lucerne. Alice, meanwhile, is telling the story present day and from the Institute nonetheless where she may or may not be trainging to become a terrorist. There are counselors making her role play and act as her sister, while they role play as the leader of the terrorists, the blind Bruno. Yes, a blind terrorist. What is Alice doing? What am I doing reading this? Are these terrorists or anti-terrorists? Are they killers or just mad? Has Alice and Edith gone insane? Have they developed the Stockholm Syndrome in record time? I don't know, but Chuck Palahniuk thanks you Heidi Julavits for publishing this novel. Now some of his earlier novels, like Fight Club, Survivor and Invisible Monsters are perfect portraits of the underbelly of society. In a way, Palahniuk's characters have seemingly lost their cartoonish and amateurish grit and have become the standard bearer for marginalized people that come to understanding of themselves under the most absurd circumstances. Maybe I didn't respect Palahniuk enough for his grasp of the outlandish, but times may have changed. I used to read him for shock value, but maybe there's more to it. Julavits seems to think so. We live in absurd world, I get that. We sometimes discover ourselves, who we really are, in unlikely places, I get that. I'd just rather find it out with Chuck leading the way.
(on a side note...in the novel, Alice lives in Revere and so do I. Alice worked at the Tip Top Steakhouse on Route 1 and my mother works at the Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1. I know it's not much, but hell, I thought it was strange and oddly interesting.)
David Huddle The Story of a Million Years