Writing: 5/5 Characters: 5/5 Plot: 3.5/5
A low-cost housing complex (The Rabbit Hutch) in a dying small town in Indiana, a set of disconnected neighbors, and a build up to a freakish act of violence that somehow weaves them together. It’s a bizarre and convoluted story that races from humor to creepy and back again without a second thought, culminating in an act that brings all the loose strands together. The writing is stunning (see the quotes below), the wildly diverse characters rendered in full technicolor detail with ongoing and minutely documented social commentary attached to individual observations. The characters: a lonely online obituary moderator, a young mother with dark thoughts, a 70ish couple decidedly not keeping up with the times, and a group of four teenagers who have aged out of the foster care system, including Blandine who is seeking meaning in the writings of the mystics — Hildegard von Bingen from the 12th century in particular.
It’s brilliantly done, bringing psychology, philosophy, and reflection to bear on the ways all of these people trying to make sense of their own lives. The author has a pointed ability to see into the motivations, experiences, and fears of those who appear rather anonymous on the outside. From the mystics to sexual grooming to isolation to the environment to the effects of noise pollution (my favorite) — the book was intellectually interesting and humorous in places, but — I admit — overall had a doomed, hopeless feel. I made it a “daytime only” read. However, I did not find the end depressing — I think that is important to note, and I wish I had known that ahead of time!
New words (for me):
Misophonia — People with misophonia are affected emotionally by common sounds — usually those made by others and usually ones that other people don’t pay attention to. The examples above (breathing, yawning, or chewing) create a fight-or-flight response that triggers anger and a desire to escape.
Balayage: a technique for highlighting hair in which the dye is painted on in such a way as to create a graduated, natural-looking effect.
A few quotes, but there are a million more…
“Joan apologized three more times, then returned to her seat, feeling evil. As usual, when she confronted the world about one of its problems, the world suggested that the problem was Joan.”
“…the cackles and squawks of three tween girls overthrow the words on the page, infuriating her. They sound like chimpanzees. Just when Joan thinks the tween cackling will stop, it gets louder, engulfing her flammable peace along with the compartment.”
“Tiffany is insecure, cerebral, and enraged. Pretty in an extraterrestrial sort of way. Addicted to learning because it distracts her from the hostility of her consciousness; she has one of those brains that attacks itself unless it’s completing a difficult task.”
“She did bring a book, but she wasn’t reading it, just bullying the ink into sense.”
“And then on top of that — weaponzing a person’s isolation — it convinced every user that she is a minor celebrity, forcing her to curate some sparkly and artificial sampling of her best experiences, demanding a nonstop social performance that has little in common with her inner life, intensifying her narcissism, multiplying her anxieties, narrowing her worldview.”
“It’s moments like these when Joan fears she is a subject in some elaborate, federally funded psychology experiement.”
“She feels like a demanding and ill-fated houseplant, one that needs light in every season but will die in direct sun, one whose soil requires daily water but will drown if it receives too much, one that takes a fertilizer only sold at a store that’s open three hours a day, one that …
“They are elite, climate controlled, dentally supreme.”
“Frequently, Hope wondered what it would be like to vacation in her cousin’s psychology.”
“She always knew that she was too small and stupid to lead a revolution, but she had hoped she could at least imagine one.”