I’ve seen this book before, I remember picking it up and putting it back on the shelf. The subject did not really interest me. The title seemed too bombastic, the tagline too much. This time however, I opened it and started reading. Time and space disappeared and a few pages later I said to myself, well, why not take it home and see what this is all about.
The story is divided into eight parts, each part representing the view of a different person: Hector, Anouk, Harry, Connie, Rosie, Manolis, Aisha and Richie. A barbecue party where a man slaps a child is seen as the trigger of a series of escalating events that bring about some major changes involving all the characters mentioned above. Friendships are challenged, old family conflicts flare up, sexual issues come to the surface and everything just goes crazy. Among issues explored are infidelity, homosexuality, single parenting, drugs, motherhood and interracial connections.
Even though each character’s perspective kept the story moving at an alert pace, I would find myself alternately looking forward to the next character’s story while at the same time asking myself why I was still wasting my time with it.
Things improved after I reached Manolis’ part – something changed, the story started to feel real and I found my connection. Was the looking-back-on-my-life thoughts of the old man, the proximity of death, the coming back of old friends that struck a chord in me? It must have. That was my favorite part in the book and if only for that I consider I have not wasted my time. There is also a section about Bangkok, and that contributed to the “real” feeling I’d started to get – the exaggerated politeness of the shop girls, the silly smiles and friendly attitude of the locals, it’s all there in the book and here in the real world. It also emphasized the contrast between the stressed out world inhabited by the characters and their view of different cultures.
Reading this novel felt like watching a soap opera where the never ending drama keeps you glued to the TV, even though you know it’s just something to pass the time, that you should turn it off or watch cartoons instead or maybe something on National Geographic. And yet, you are having one of those days when all you want to do is take a day off from the world and lounge around in your pajamas, eat ice-cream straight from the box and watch TV all day. So I kept reading, partly because I hate giving up on a book and partly because of plain old curiosity.
And still, under the profanity that made my head spin, the drugs, the racism, the macho attitude of the men and fearlessness of the women, there is a grain of reality – it made me think of the raw, stripped, naked thoughts that run through our heads, hidden, pushed in corners, willed into oblivion, of desires reaching deep and passion and regrets. This is the amplified drama of ordinary lives.
Time to change out of my pajamas and get back to the real world.
*Read in December 2011