Monday, March 1, 2010

Books That Gutted Me

When I finished reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I wasn't quite certain how it was that my heart was still beating.

Because I was convinced that someone had entered my house and beaten me to death with a baseball bat. I seriously closed the book, put it next to me on the couch, and then proceeded to feel my skull, because it had to be concave somewhere, so sound was the beating I took. I kept feeling around. Where is the valley where my head was bashed in? Where is it?

-Spoiler alert-

I also cried, but this might be because I knew Viggo Mortensen would be playing the father in the movie, and Viggo = hot. Even dirty and stanky and half-mad with starvation, Viggo = hot. And, if you read the book, you know how Father/Viggo ends up.

Which, sad!

All my cheeky talk is taking away from the fact that I found the book to be quite powerful, and I'm very serious when I say I did have to sit there and digest it all after I finished it. That story had to make its way around the bowels of my brain, and then I cried, and I don't meant to suggest that my tears were brain poop.

Gah! This isn't working!

It's difficult trying to say you enjoyed a work of fiction about post-apocalyptic America. Because enjoy isn't the correct word. I can't say I enjoyed reading a book about a father and son trying to make their way someplace, any place, through the barren, burned-out environment, and along the way, trying heartily to avoid the numerous bands of cannibals that perhaps set up shop where the old Wal-Mart used to be. It was hard to read, and I did feel a bit like some post-novel therapy was in order. But I was still glad I got through it.

I felt very similarly after reading John Hersey's Hiroshima, because reading about the level of death and destruction brought about by the dropping of the atomic bomb will do that.

Ditto for Lauren Slater's Welcome to My Country, and Susana Kaysen's Girl Interrupted, because if you've spent any amount of time here, you'd know that I'm all over that depression lit, with good reason! Both were crucial reads at a time when I needed smart people to validate what I'd been enduring, and I was grateful for having encountered both stories.

Junot Diaz's book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was also a killer. A good killer, a sexy killer, where all your encouraging energy goes to a morbidly obese, fantasy-obsessed teen. Moving back and forth in time, you get a horrifyingly clear picture of how far the death and destruction of a brutal dictatorship (Trujillo in the Dominican Republic) spreads, and how many people are affected.

What I want to know is what books really got to you? Which did you put down but not forget about?


Indigo Children said...

Olive Kitteridge stayed with me a long time; I could not decide how I felt about her (still can't).

I had a hard time letting go of Oscar Wao too (a bit damaged after reading -- but in a good way I think).

I have a hard time with Cormac McCarthy because of the violence -- I tend to get sucked into any world I am reading about (or watching) -- and it is hard to get back out sometimes.

I am stuck in a mountain of kidlit right now (but I am enjoying it). Just finished The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, and I LOVE IT -- Callie Vee is a well developed, strong, funny, curious young girl coming of age in the beginning of the 20th century. If you like YA books, you might like it.

mayberry said...

Oscar Wao - you're right. A killer.

I also couldn't stop thinking about Stephen King's The Stand (speaking of post-apocalyptic) but not because of the writing!

Meredith Hall's Without a Map (I posted about this) also gutted me, because of how it resonated with my own life.

Anonymous said...

The Road slayed me. I don't know if I liked it or not but it certainly stayed with me. When I finished it, I had to go look at pictures of puppies and kittens and rainbow-farting unicorns and then read a couple of Rosemund Pilcher books.

One book in particular that has stayed with me is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It was a tough read but well worth it.

RuthWells said...

A Prayer for Owen Meany gutted me the first time I read it.

The Kite Runner, also.

Rima said...

The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald. And, now that I'm looking at RuthWells' comment above, I have to say the A Prayer for Owen Meany was one of those books for me, too.

I don't think I could read The Road.

eileen said...

I too, was challenged by reading The Road - and I read it long before it was to be made into a movie. (Not sure I could have handled reading it with the thought of Viggo Mortensen playing the dad - he's one of my favorites!) It's an excellent thought experiment: what would happen if the world was "gone" - what would that look like - how would humanity debase itself - what might hope look like? The scene where they came on the folks eating the baby did me in, but when you read stories about the Donner party, I guess such things are not so far fetched.

I'd have to say, that along these lines, Margaret Atwood's books have had a similar effect on me - especially The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. So much of what she posits is plausibly incredible. Theocracy, women as breeding sex slaves, the total loss of personhood and meaningful human connection, destruction through genetic engineering. Al fascinating thought lines to be explored.

I just ordered a bunch of books you mentioned here, that I've been meaning to read!

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