The highlight of my summer 2015 is very much different from the previous years.
This season, I haven't engaged in a summer romance or in any affair or a meet-cute that can be shelved in my library of personal anecdotes.
I engaged in the summer feels.
After tons of fast-reading Young-Adult fiction in participation to a game in our book club - the most recent getting the "Worst Read of the Year" award, I finally dedicated some of the hot days to reading a very feminine novel, Siri Hustvedt's The Summer Without Men.
Hustvedt, from a generation of hard-pronounced Norwegian surnames, is the wife of the New York Trilogy's Paul Auster. Since I am no fan of the husband and I am yet to explore the works of the wife, this first read got me hooked. I am about to read her bestseller, What I Loved, and in preparation with the works of her prose, I read the yellow book first.
The first line got me engaged -
Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in the hospital.
All the while I made a sweeping generalization of this is a very very VERY SAD story of a problematic woman. But it is not, actually. It wasn't a sad story. It isn't also the coming of age; for the main character, Mia Fredricksen, is an old woman. No, not in the middle-life crisis, mind you, but actually contemplating life in general.
The writing style Siri used in this book is "tell, than show". In a plethora of written diary entries, introspection, and letters (whether snail or electronic), she dealt with the departure of her husband after thirty years of marriage. It was bitter at first; her being mad with men, explaining the philosophical and the scientific battle of men and women. Some, I find it absurd, trying her best to put out whatever she is really proving in the realm of the Battle of the Sexes. I even researched on the scientists she mentioned, for all I know really are some studies of Sigmund Freud. It is not dragging - I believe it is more of, you as a reader, letting yourself be her soundboard - you are slowly becoming a listener to her rants and debates and sometimes unsound "thinking aloud"s, if there is such a term.
The book is divided into three sections, made obvious by the doodles Siri drew. Three sections, or let us say, the three stages of getting by. (I think getting by is more proper than moving on. After all, she is torn between two stages of life: (a) Cue-ing nostalgia and (b) Waiting on death. This is on my personal note, because Mia is not actually on her #YOLO state, she is an old momma)
|Doodle 1: Grumpy with Summer Heat|
Part one composed of her mercurial moments, the Summer after she recovered from the Brief Psychotic Disorder, triggered by the pause. This is also where she get to know The Swans, a group of friends under her mother's realm; her neighbor Lola (and her family), with all sorts of TV Dramas most Filipino mothers watched out for; and the Teenage Witches of Bonden. As a reader you get to know her daughter Daisy and her sister Bea.
|Doodle 2: Chilling outside|
Part two is more of her involvement with these women, and less of remembering men. Truly, the book composed of women and their presence and men and their memories. She slowly detaches from her rants and frustrated sex-y diary entries, actually dealing with the characters around her. If you are a man who is curious about the book, you may find this part tiring, because Siri writes more womanly, indulging in intuition and of the senses. If you are a man, you might not sense "that something is odd", unless Mia mentions "Something is odd". I hope you get my drift.
|Doodle three: Feeling the Summer Breeze|
Part three is where the action comes in - when all the events happen concurrently yet sequentially. She deals with the issue around her new community, getting a space in the TV Drama she previously a narrator in, and slowly reviving her mushiness after seeing an end in an interlude.
This is the part I truly enjoyed. I felt Siri's writing the most sincere a woman writer ever written in this age of contemporary lit. It is also cinematic, some of the paragraphs feel scenic, making it stranger than Stranger Than Fiction. I felt like I was a camera rolling, without edit, capturing the candor of the character.
All at once, I felt sad for the whole lot of us human beings, as if I had suddenly been transported skyward and, like some omniscient narrator in a nineteenth-century novel, were looking down on the spectacle of flawed humanity and wishing things could be different, not wholly different, but different enough to spare some of us a little pain here and there.
Also, most of this part gave tons of heartwarming feels - the kind of feeling you have after a summer rain. A breezy feel after a very hot day.
MF: What do you want from me now?
MF: Woo me.
BI: Okay.It is not actually mushy, the cheese you see in romantic novels. It is more of something is there, you have to sense it.
A definite goodread, Siri's The Summer Without Men is striking with sincerity, beyond the usual bravado, and summery - may you as a reader is with a man or not.
Rating: 5 stars