Told from the point of view of the narrator, Anthony (Tony) Webster, the story is about his life. All through to the end I was under the impression of reading a personal journal – from Tony’s childhood all the way through his late years. It’s about those details that get stuck in our heads without us really knowing why, bits of memories floating on the river of life, resurfacing in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times. And while they might seem like inoffensive bits and pieces, they are actually part of a big puzzle called life. Tony’s life, to be more precise.
Describing himself as an average person who left life “happen” to him rather than make things happen, Tony is an average guy, with average friends and a somewhat ordinary life. Divorced but on good terms with his ex-wife, father of a daughter who is herself married and has a family, Tony starts thinking about the past, going all the way back to his childhood and through each story offering the reader more details about himself. From his school days – some funny dialogues come up in this section – to his first girlfriend, Veronica, to his happy gang of friends out of which Adrian, the philosopher, plays a central role, Tony starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle. There’s a suicide and a diary that might explain things. Veronica might explain them even better but after their breakup a long time ago, she’s not keen on meeting up again. All she does, apart from making Tony feel like a real dork, is to say “you don’t get it” to the point of becoming obnoxious. Maybe I felt this way because I didn’t get it either and so I found another reason to sympathize with Tony. What is there to get, what’s the mystery she’s not revealing, the information she’s holding back?
The whole book is a journey to the answer. Because, in the end, the writer does allow us that satisfaction. At first I was taken aback, then, thinking back at certain passages in the book, things started to come together. Those details, those bits floating around are not just debris, they are important, and as the memories change from bits to something more substantial, so does Tony’s understanding of the events.
Time has robbed him of the ability to change anything and it has turned him philosophical. After all, what’s left now after he’s almost reached the end of the road, but to examine his actions, his words, and think about what would have happened if he’d done (or hadn’t done) certain things? Would not sending an angry letter have changed things? Is it better to understand life, the futility of it and give up halfway through? Is it better not to expect too much so the disappointment won’t hurt too badly? These are just a few of the questions I was left with after I turned the last page. Imbued with a melancholy that only increases with each page, this book made me think of how we perceive things that happen to us and how we remember bits from our past and especially how those bits are connected to our present. A small but intense book written in an elegant style, worth spending your time and money on.
*Read in June, 2012