Thursday, May 12, 2011

Empathy for the hopeless ones

Thank you, Blogger, for crashing and LOSING this post, despite you claiming you've restored all posts. Lucky for you, I found a cache of it, so I didn't have to rewrite.

Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen has been on my reading queue for a long time. In landed there partly because of a glowing review by a former library coworker and partly because, to be honest, I dug the cover.

This book is a series of five elegies Mary Murphy is writing to to five people in her life she will never forget—a drunk uncle, a "walking joke" high school classmate, a poor and cynical college roommate, a middle-aged piano prodigy, and her impulsive mother.

I really thought this was an amazing concept for the content and format of a book. The language is winding; because it's structured as Mary talking to these people (with direct use of the word 'you'), it has a natural flow in which one paragraph will end in a place completely different from where it started. If you think the premise sounds like one that will overly sentimental and lame, you'd be completely wrong. It's, in fact, kind of devastating. The characters introduced are ones that just made your heart hurt. It's not that they're pathetic, per se; they're just constantly striving for something else, something better, but with a defeated mentality, and you just know they're never going to get out of it. Our narrator Mary isn't much better. We learn her story though her elegies to others, see how her interactions with the people around her shape her own life. We can only hope that as she observes the lives of others, she learns something—maybe becomes self-aware, which seems the first step in helping yourself.

This book put me in a weird mood while I was reading it. The characters are drawn so well, with so much detail, that you feel yourself empathetic to their pain, sucked into this feeling of hopelessness. Luckily, it was a quick read so I didn't feel that way too long; you can't start one story without finishing it, so you find yourself getting through all five very quickly.

I don't mean to turn you off by painting a picture of a very depressing book, because it's certainly not all bad. Somehow, Hodgen managed to throw a twinge of optimism in there, so you'll finish without feeling an overwhelmingly, depressing sense of hopelessness. Promise!


Aarti said...

Wow, you're right- what a great premise for a book! It sounds like it could be really, really depressing, so I'm glad it's not so long. And that there's some optimism. What a great title, too!

softdrink said...

 I'm with you on the cover...I'd totally pick it up if I saw it in the bookstore. When you siad 5 people I instantly had a flashback to 5 People You Meet in Heaven (which I loathed), so I was worried for a minute until I kept reading. So glad to hear it turn out to be overly sentimental!

Kari said...

Oh god, it's NOTHING like Mitch Albom (blehhhhh). This is not schmaltzy at all.