Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Don't I Know You? by Karen Shepard

My first thoughts on this novel: 
  • I enjoyed it, but I'm aggravated. 
  • I love mystery & suspense, but I like closure. 
  • I think it's best to let a story unfold, but I also it should tell you what it's about.
  • Some unanswered questions are good.  Too many aren't.
But that's just me.  I've thought about this book since finishing it last night.  It's been on my mind all day.  I'm drawing the conclusion that in this particular "mystery" the unanswered questions are an actual mimic of life, a sad mimic of life.  In life, sometimes we just don't always get our answers.  People leave our lives for whatever reason and we may never know the full story why.  Things happen, out of our control, and we have no idea what spiraled them in that direction.  We may discover secrets and lies and hidden agendas but can uncover no reason...  Destiny, fate, karma, God's will - whatever it is, it is what it is.

We're expected to just walk thru this life, take the hard knocks on the chin, count the blessings as they come and accept them all as is.  Maybe we're provided an answer, but what answer is it?  Is it the truth or is it what the do-er wants us to believe?  Sometimes we're just left to find comfort in drawing our own conclusions.  And then we have to live with the assumptions we make.  In this, we design our own closure.

This story took me down that path.  That path of finding my own way, creating my own assumptions and finding my own closure.  Therein laid a big question with no true answer but quite a few conclusions.  I define it as a surface teller: it skimmed the surface of the situations, providing snippets of information without much depth and just a sprinkling of observations from only one perspective at a time.  I had to put the story together, piece by piece, snippet by snippet - like an investigator, and as much as I enjoy investigation, I can't quite say I enjoyed it.

Here's the deal, Dear Author:  This is your story - TELL it to me!  Don't give it away, of course, but don't make it so cryptic, I can't decipher it.  I don't want to scratch my head and wonder what you'd have me take away from it... Rather, just say it.  Tell me what it is that I need to know.

(but tell me creatively, clearly, and with wit, and clever twists... have the light bulb slowly progress from dim to full illumination! no dark corners with cobwebs left... no, none for me, please)

I'm clutching at this because I believe there is something deeper here.  The metaphor of life, yes, got that.  But something else that if I were more literary I'd understand and marvel at the brillance of it.  Fact is, I am impressed by Karen Shepard's truly interesting concept:  have you ever known a storyteller to tell you a story but NOT tell the story?  Perplexing, fascinating, but infuriating!  Too many, much too many, unanswered questions. 

~ Was there justice in the end? 
~ Was he wrongly accused? 
~ What did he believe? 
~ Who lived where? 
~ Who knew who? 
~ Who was there? 
~ What was written? 
~ Why was it hidden? 
~ Where did everyone go? 
~ What happened after? 

Yes.  Endless questions - as in life, I know.  I do get it.  But is that right?  Do we go thru life, especially after a particularly devastating experience, and live with this huge void of inconclusion, lack of fact, no closure?  So cynical of you, Dear Author Karen Shepard.  So cynical, so cruel and so very sad.

But despite these gripes and grunts, I did love a few things...  Shepard has a wonderful literary voice.  It's the type that speaks to me and guides me to find my own.  More than once, as I was reliving what I'd read in my head, I stopped whatever I was doing at the moment & wrote.  Just wrote.  The entry before this one was part of that.  A voice from deep within me and out of nowhere.  So welcomed, so motivating and so inspiring! 

Another element I truly enjoyed was how her characters intermingled - character infusion, I call it.  They would pop up in another storyline, usually as an unassuming and unimportant observation, but giving us a hint of insight, just a slivering tidbit, for us to file away & maybe draw from later.  The story was so littered with casual observations it was hard to decipher what was critical to the keep and what could be let go.

The entire book is a study of a writing format that I do find fascinating: 3 different characters telling their story from their particular perspective all the while casually, almost unwittingly flittering insight into the main story... 

Extraordinary.  Simply. Extraordinary.

BUT:  it's as if there is a box on the table, and the overall story, the main story (an unsolved murder), is the box.  And lying out to the sides of the box, coming from beneath it are these 4 glorious, sensuous ribbons, one off of each side.  Three of the ribbons represent the 3 characters telling their particular story at a particular time within the overall story.  The 4th ribbon represents the very last story, the final puzzle piece, if you would - this story is about a time, not a  person, but it involves all 3 characters.  The goal is to take the four ribbons, draw them up over the box top and tie them into a beautiful, magnificent bow.  However, sadly, the bow does not get tied.  The ribbons get wound around one another, and I can see the knot, but the bow - the beautiful, magnificent bow made of 4 interconnected glorious, sensuous looping ribbons - just does not get formed.  Instead, limp & unformed ribbons hanging off the edges of the box from the large and sloppy knot in the center is the best I get. 

~ quotes ~

And the belief that actions had consequences.  And guilt.  Those last two, she said, were connected.

Steven figured that for awhile everything he said was going to hurt.

It always felt good and bad to be let go.

The first thing was the big rock into the pond; everything else was ripples.

"Sometimes fucked up's just the play of the day."

He could feel his heart, but he didn't know if that was because he believed himself or because he didn't.

He didn't want to be responsible for making people care again, or still.

"And things will be hard, and then things'll get easier."

She wandered the apartment, a balloon tring to find its way back to earth.

His body had been imperfect in perfect ways.

asking someone to save you was the same thing as asking for a certain kind of destruction.  His genuine sadness about his own behavior did not temper the damage, though it had taken all she had to tell him to leave, to refuse the phone calls, to deny the ache of missing them when they stopped.

She trusted people until they gave her reason not to.

and she'd felt a little sillly and told herself, as she often did, to remember that there were usually logical explanations for all those illogical feelings that wouldn't quite be placed.

"You make it thru the day without anyone finding out you are a fraud."

What had Matthew ever wanted?  Everything.  Nothing.  And all that lay between.

It was the only extravagance they allowed themselves, and Lily stood there thinking of it as pathetic.

"I love him; he love me; we love you.  It why we love you,"

Who thought of these machines? she often wondered.  Who decided what we needed and how to give it to us?

The best lies were the ones closest to the truth.

How did people spend their lives as liars?  How did they keep track of it all?

Reminded her how difficult it was to know someone with anything like real confidence, how much of a blessing it was to receive even a glimpse behind the curtains of someone you loved.

She worked her hands under his shirt and placed her fingertips in the small of his back, where they had discovered, years ago, a spot built just for them.

She was not herself.  She was some version of herself that knowing these two men had brought to the surface.  Maybe that meant she was more herself.

She wanted to be in control, to have a say in how at leasat one thing in her life would resolve itself.

And perhaps she would teach him what he had taught her: that the least likely people are capable of the most unexpected things.

Fear at doing or saying the thing that would end upmaking all the difference.

A strategy she used with the preschoolers came to her.  Don't demand.  Ask.  Let them think it's you who needs the help, they who hold the solutions.

Just tell the truth, her father used to say to her.

If he couldn't give her what she needed, she could leave him, and do so without being destroyed.

Watching was a way to learn.

That's when she wept, because her mind shut down at the understanding that dying meant leaving her son.

Now the old friends had time to sit at Muriel's kitchen table, smoke cigarettes over cups of coffee slowly growing cold.

He was Jewish; people thought he was wise.

Her life with him was only part of other lives he had: the barbershop, the army, the woman with the Russian accent who'd shown up at the memorial service accompanied by a boy a few years younger than Michael.

Both women wee hard workers, their households smoothly running machines.  But Muriel was better at getting what she wanted by way of announcement.  Louise was better by way of endurance.

Maybe he hadn't kept secrets from her.  Maybe she'd done that to herself.

She'd always known that where she failed, God would sort it out.

It was amazing what a person could come up against in herself and still keep going.

Everywhere she went, she was wrong.  Why couldn't life be easier?

If they just had the chance to go back, she could do things differently; he could do things differently.  Each of them could have the life they should've.

It had been strange to be in someone's apartment without the someone.

It was because she was dying that what she did mattered so much.

Who was happy with what God dished out for them?

Whatever she had or hadn't done had been for him.  She wouldn't have known how to live any other way.

He looked like he'd been there his whole life.

This was what heaven would be like - a view of everyone she'd ever known, milling around on the block.

They'd both been gone for years, but in another way they'd both been there all this time, waiting for her to come out and play.

"You're where you need to be," Muriel said.

He shrugged and she recognized her own gesture.  What had she given him?  What would she leave him with?

"Telling the truth is hard," she said.  It was the truth.

She'd know who she wanted to talk to and what she wanted to say.  And he wouldn't be there.

There were still hours ahead of them before sleep.

"I'm a fuckup," she'd say over and over, doing nothing to change her ways.

What did she know about men and women and the behavior between them?

They were all there: people he knew and people he didn't.

It could happen that easily.  Everything wasn't already the way it was going to be.  Things could happen.  Things could change.  It was a good thing to know.

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