The Post-Birthday World - Lionel Shriver

"But what you've done - are doing - isn't outrageous. It's commonplace."

And this quote, in a nutshell, sums up my feelings about this book.

It's one we picked up at a book sale last year in Portland (along with about 65 others) and has been sitting on our shelf. Our last issue of Entertainment Weekly (Jonathan's and my main contact with pop-culture and media) named it their #1 fiction of 2007, so earlier this week when I came down with a surprisingly potent virus I hauled it up to bed and read it over the last 3 days while I convalesced.

Chapter 1 is the set-up, and Chapters 2-11 are each duplicated in a clever parallel structure giving two alternate realities: one in which Irina, a Russian-American children's book illustrator living in London, cheats on her long-term live-in partner; and one in which she doesn't. The story craft is pretty masterful, interweaving the two plots, throwing in coy bits of intersection like a lost hose-ring, and giving each story line a convincing "present." Events like the death of Lady Diana and 9/11 are inserted both to advance the respective plots as well as to give the reader some idea of time.

I guess I had two major problems with this book. One, I could not buy into caring about Shriver's beautiful doormat of a protagonist, Irina. Some of her reflections, her inner monologues, were relatable, but all in all I found her much less convincing as a person than, say, the absolutely living and breathing characters in Jennifer Weiner's "chick-lit." Her character seemed rather like some kind of wish-fulfillment for the author (incidentally the same complaint I had with "The Time-Traveler's Wife"). Don't we all want to be unconsciously gorgeous and have a higher-than-average sex drive?

The second major problem is illuminated in the quote above. No matter how you dress it up, this book is about infidelity. Yawn. And the moral of the story seems to be that it doesn't really matter, in the end, if you cheat or not. Life will kinda be nice and kinda suck either way. I admit, I get very itchy around the popular assumption in much of what I watch and read that "marriage," as we know it around our house, is a completely arcane concept not even worth mentioning. Our heroine comes to her crisis decision point while her ersatz husband (they've cohabited 9 years but never married) is in Sarajevo and she has gone on a posh date with a handsome, charming, single man, afterwards accompanying him to his house for the purpose of smoking marijuana. While both drunk and high, alone with him in his home, having had ample time to reflect on how dreamy he is, she either kisses him, or doesn't. Now, ordinarily I'm not one to go moralizing, but am I alone in thinking that the decision really should have been made BEFORE she put herself in this position? I feel sort of like a clucking hen in saying it, but HONESTLY.

So, I give Shriver credit for form, but her content appeals to me not at all. Maybe this is why I find myself sticking to historical works.

Fed to robyn's brain | January 09, 2008 | Comments (0)


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