Monday, April 6, 2015

Late Riser?

I complained the most about people not taking the book club seriously and I'm late on this book. My apologies! I think I overestimated my skills as a reader and started another book earlier this month and ended up starting this one late. 

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a great job dealing with real issues while maintaining a sense of lightness and not spiraling out of control into full blown tragedy. Particularly, I really felt that I took my first steps into understanding what PTSD exactly is. I liked Luis’ narrative and how we were able to witness this irrational anger that he ends up feeling, probably as a result of PTSD. 

I think Neha was annoyed at Avis’ lack of action towards her son’s violence but I found myself wondering the whole time what I would do in her situation. I think it would be really tough to, at the first sign of abuse, decide to take steps that would undoubtedly end her son’s career as a law enforcement officer. It is a terribly delicate situation because I’m sure even if he went to a counselor not connected with the police department, there are probably some rules that would require the counselor to divulge this information since he may be a risk to the community. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that I do think that war veterans come back with very few options on how to conduct their lives and assimilate in society.  Of course, in retrospect, it is obvious she should have acted immediately but I think it’s pretty realistic that there was some part of her in denial and probably hoping that his actions were just this one time. 

I think a theme of the book is people pitying themselves due to their own dismal lives, then realizing that others have it worse,  and finally taking steps to  help another, which in turn, ends up helping themselves. Avis is depressed about her failed marriage but realizes how much more important it is for her to ensure Lauren’s safety and Nate’s mental health. Luis is distraught over Sam and the boy he shot but then realizes how unfortunate Bashkim is. Bashkim is upset about his mother but acts selflessly towards the end when he decides that he needs to be there for his little sister, Tirana, and will do whatever it takes for them to live together. 

I think what I enjoyed most was just the author's voice when writing as each character. I remember we read some book last time we started this book club where the child character's narrative was so unrealistic. Like, the author completely exaggerated the incorrect grammar of the child's dialogue and it was really grating. This author did a great job of simplifying language and ideas when writing Bashkim's character and when writing Luis, you could feel his anger and then the dissipation of his anger when he realizes he has no idea why he's so worked up about something. 

I actually didn't have many analytic thoughts while reading the book, which I partly think is a good thing. I just read it and came back with a sense of satisfaction. But I read through your posts and I'm enjoying thinking back on what I liked and analyzing what the author was doing. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

We are all called to Rise -- including you!!

Hey everyone!! What happened to our book club?? Kudos to Neha to being the only one who has 'risen to the call,' and posted her thoughts on the book. I'm curious as to what happened to everyone this month - either the book wasn't compelling enough, or all of our lives got busier and the book club just lost its priority spot!

I started the book a few weeks ago, and found it to be a really great, easy read. I really enjoyed the way the author spoke so truly to the voice of each character. It was really as if she were in their heads, and the thoughts seemed so seamlessly aligned w/the personality - does that make sense? When the book opened, I thought Avis was the main character - I found her marriage falling apart scenario so realistic and relatable. Not because I have a falling apart marriage (knock on wood, far from it) - but I do know that it's so very easy for couples to become consumed by the day-to-day that is life, and then to suddenly find yourself drifted miles from where you started -- and if you don't take the constant notice of it as it's happening, you'll be too far from shore when you realize it. Which is what I think happened to Avis. She was trying to revamp her marriage by going to her untouched lingerie drawer, but it was too late by then. And in regards to that one comment that her husband made (I really like the book club questions in the end) - that his girlfriend really "helped him think about things," and Avis wonders "What does that have to do with ending our marriage?" - I thought that was a really poignant statement. She, also, came into a relationship type situation with another man, who was there for her, fulfilling something that she was missing in other parts of her married life. But she didn't feel the need to explore that further - maybe she wasn't that disconnected to her husband at that point (her kids were much younger then) or maybe she valued her 'normal, all-American' life too much to ruin in. Avis' past was fascinating to me - the fact that she could be so relatively normal despite what she grew up with. I also liked how she didn't want to start over after the divorce, which is the advice everyone probably gives you at that time. She'd already reinvented herself so much living this life - she doesn't have the energy or desire to do it all over again. And that's fine.

When I first read the letter from Luis to Bashkim, I literally burst out laughing, because I couldn't believe someone would write such a thing down. And everything that ensued after that was totally believable - the kid throwing up, the principal's office, the fiasco with the parents. Bashkim's insight was my favorite part. One of the book club questions was "Do you find Bashkim's narrative of the novel's more serious events to be reliable? Why or why not?" It never crossed my mind once that his recollection of events was unreliable. If anything, he seemed to have far more insight into human politics & psychology than most of the adults around him. His family situation was so pathetic - and I have to say, I was REALLY irritated by the mom constantly saying "Let Allah kill me now!" How is THAT a solution to your f---ing problems?! Yes, she was in a pathetic situation, and there was really no out for her - but her DYING was not going to help - as we see in the end of the book. Btw, did anyone notice that Bashkim said he loves pepperoni pizza in the book - don't Muslims not eat pepperoni?

Nate & Luis - two parallel Iraqi war leftovers - each with anger & loathing repressed inside - but both deal with it in such different ways. Neha, reading your post really made me think about the PTSD thing, and how scary it is that people like these are actually being hired to be police officers. And how it makes sense when they are suddenly shooting unarmed black kids - bc we have NO idea what is going on inside their heads. My favorite part of Nate's story was when he had the outburst in front of his mom - and told him what it was like out there - and why he's so f---ed up. It made his otherwise one-dimensional character suddenly human for me.

I did find the ending a little to abruptly convenient. Not as bad & cheesy as our last book club book where all the killers ended up in the same place at the same time ... but I honestly didn't get a sense of the impetus for Abuela to adopt 2 children at this point in her life? My guess is that she figured that would be the only thing that would make her son feel good again. He kept saying he wanted to feel like a man, and having those 2 kids around would definitely do that.

Would love to hear other folks thoughts on the book. This is definitely a meaty book for a book club, bc there is so much you can talk about. I would also love to hear people's thoughts on why/how Las Vegas was a character in the backdrop of this film. I'm really bad at understanding subtext like that, so would love to hear how people interpreted that.

Looking forward to reading your posts!! And we need to choose a book for April :-)