Saturday, May 10, 2014

Swimming In A Fishbowl

Eleanor & Park is a young adult novel about two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl.

The book is syrupy, melancholy, angsty. I can imagine many people hating this book. It is about the awkward, square peg variety of the teenager species. You either were in the same boat with these kids and have no interest in being reminded, thankyouverymuch, or you were weren’t in the same boat with these kids, and they annoyed you, disgusted you, or drove you crazy.

It took me three chapters to know that I would finish the book. I’m now more than ⅔ of the way through, which is the perfect time to write some thoughts I’ve had while reading Eleanor & Park. I can’t really spoil much, since I haven’t read the ending. Although I do know from enough GoodReads reviews that the ending is either going to piss me off or break my heart several more times over.

(1) The nature of friendship is not as much about chemistry as I used to think.
It’s about where you sit on the school bus. Or which kid lives four houses away from you rather than 15 houses away. It’s about the coworker in your department rather than the one who works two floors down. It’s about how well your children seem to get along. It’s about what time you like going to get that afternoon coffee. It’s about getting reprimanded by that same boss neither of you can stand.

It’s about one kid who listens to cool music, or reads cool books (or comic books), or plays fun games, and another kid hungry to discover a hobby, any new thing. It’s about two kids getting bikes at Christmas and learning to ride together. It’s about two shy girls stuck together with wild girls on a soccer team.

Did my childhood friends and I begin by having things in common? Or did we create things in common to explain or strengthen this blooming thing that felt like a friendship? It’s so obvious to me now that the latter happened so much more than the former.

(2) No one should forget the first time they held hands with someone. If you have forgotten the exact moment, never forget what it felt like.
(3) Adult men have the most potential for unspeakable awful with the least effort.

All people are capable of doing bad things, awful or evil or wrong things. We can all deceive, betray, hurt someone else. But some breeds of adult men seem more capable of doing so with a kind of effortlessness, a flippant instinctive force, to degrees that women and children don’t.

But men backhand their kids. Men drink and allow venom to spew from their mouths in the form of words and sentences. Men punch walls, and women they claim to love. Men can punish anything nice and sweet for the world being less than they want it to be.

Women can do this, too. But not as many. Not as easily. Maybe women can be more connivingly evil. Maybe they scheme better. I mean, if we’re searching for ways women can be more evil or more awful than men, I’m sure there are ways. But men can really really suck, and when they do, my own mind has to fight against words like “retribution,” “vengeance,” “eye for an eye.” Awful men beget those urges even in noble people. They are viruses.

(4) Nothing is as hard to read about, or as painful to remember, as those times when someone feels unworthy of being loved.

(5) It is possible to rescue someone, but the story must go on.


One of my low moments as a teenager involved breaking up with a sweet and wonderful human being and falling in love with a train wreck of another, not necessarily in that order. In hindsight, I realize how drawn I was to the swirl of melodrama in which this girl lived. Her hair was wild, her eyes were wild, and her passions were wild. Here I was, dating this girl who had deep and genuine feelings for me, and I felt like I was in the Tortoise Cage at the zoo, looking enviously into the cave with rattlesnakes.

I think I felt heroic. The girl I was dating didn’t need me. She was going to be an amazing and incredible person no matter what I did. But this other girl? She needed someone like me. Someone with a good heart and the best intentions (Yes, this section is connected to #2).

And I did. I totally rescued that train wreck. And the feeling it gave me, the shivers it pushed into my body, was almost like a drug. I felt like Dudley Do Right, embracing the damsel, ropes frayed and dangling over her grateful body, as the train rushed past us only inches away. I felt like the hero even as I heard the ex-girlfriend crying and desperate to understand why I would break up with her. “Ma’am, you’ll be fine. Just sit there and recover. Duty calls!”

(6) It is possible to love a book so much that the ending can’t possibly destroy it. I knew that about The Fault In Our Stars, and I know it about Eleanor & Park.

It’s a book about my own life. But not really. It’s a book about my life’s longest friend. But not really. It’s about love I think I remember, loves I think I’ve known, friendships I’ve seen pass before me, some enduring and some long faded. But it’s not about me at all.

It’s about a depth of pain and panic, of a million inexplicable feelings good and bad, that surge through an adolescent in ways adults forget or pretend away. It’s about memories of growing up that are so awkward, so miserable, that only crazy people would enjoy reading a book chock full of them.

3 comments:

troutking said...

Number one is a very good insight (not that the others aren't). But I have often thought about the role of fate and geography in the formation of friendships. What if in high school I'd moved into the first house we looked at and not the second? What if I'd said on my freshman college roommate survey that I liked Metallica instead of Huey Lewis? What if I was in one fantasy football league instead of the other? Yep a lot of it is proximity. Especially if you are a certain person who sometimes reads this blog who cuts off communication if you move out of his area code. Just checking to see if he's reading.

troutking said...

He's apparently not reading, even though he doesn't have any classes to teach right now.

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