Tag: Nick Hornsby

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

Posted June 7, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan TropperTitle: How to Talk to a Widower (Goodreads)
Author: Jonathan Tropper
Published: Orion, 2007
Pages: 341
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

“I had a wife. Her name was Hailey. Now she’s gone. And so am I.”

This one reoccurring line not only serves as a mantra for Doug Parker, it also sums up the essence of How to Talk to a Widower. A year ago Doug lost his with in a plane crash and he has been grieving ever since. The people around him tend to think that it is time for him to move on, he is only twenty-nine, and he still has a whole life ahead of him. For Doug, that is not the case, his wife is gone, and so is he. On the surface this novel feels like it has the makings of a bad sitcom, with a blend of humour and melodrama; however there is so much going on the under the surface worth exploring.

Essentially How to Talk to a Widower is a study into grief and the emotions behind losing someone close. However I feel like this novel explores the idea of holding onto grief. How long can we hold on? At some point the grief becomes a part of us and it not only controls us but it defines us. We can fall into an endless spiral without any hope of escape; it felt like Doug was trapped in this endless spiral at time but then we get these little glimpses of hope. Not sure if he is healing or it is just false hope.

Doug Parker is an interesting character; he is so flawed and there is something so genuine about him. Grief has defined him and he often uses it as an excuse for his self-destructive ways. Doug loves women, to an extent where it felt like he has an attraction to every woman he meets; they were all beautiful. “Sometimes you walk past a pretty girl on the street there’s something beyond beauty in her face, something warm and smart and inviting, and in the three seconds you have to look at her, you actually fall in love, and in those moments, you can actually know the taste of her kiss, the feel of her skin against yours, the sound of her laugh, how she’ll look at you and make you whole. And then she’s gone, and in the five seconds afterwards, you mourn her loss with more sadness than you’ll ever admit to.” While we know that Doug loves and misses his wife, Jonathan Tropper has the ability to strip his characters bare and expose every part for their personality.

When Doug lost his wife he was only 29; Hailey was eleven years older and had a teenage son from a previous family. Her son, Russ is suffering just as much as Doug; he feels he not only lost his mother but his stepfather has also abandoned him. He was shipped off to live with his father who is bad news. He acts up and does everything to get some attention. Like I’ve said before, this novel is so melodramatic but it is all bittersweet.

I love the complexity that is found in this novel, not just with Doug and Russ, but even Doug’s sister Claire and his family are all so complicated that reading the drama in this book is both enjoyable and often sad. Even the woman Doug starts sleeping comes with her own set of flaws and complexities. “She was smart and funny and vulnerable and just so goddamned beautiful, the kind of beautiful that was worth being shot down over.” She is such a mystery; I wanted to know what is her motivation? Why is she attracted to Doug? She is just a sexual output for the protagonist and there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind her motivation. This mystery is what I’m drawn to; I want to know more. I like how she is described as voluptuous and she seems to have an air about her I can’t help but want to explore.

Even though there is so much drama in the novel, there is humour that runs throughout How to Talk to a Widower. I can’t help but get a sense of irony from this novel. The title alone makes the book sound like a self-help book and then he is writing a column in M magazine with the same title. One suspects that the column is an advice column as well but it is just an output for his grief. The humour that is tangled up in the grief and melodrama really brought this novel together, like the glue that holds it all together.

Think of this novel like dick-lit (chick-lit from a male perspective), think of it as something the Nick Hornsby may write, however I think this was better. The drama was touching, intense and executed beautifully. All the relationship dilemmas, his off kilter family, and the grief all was balanced wonderfully in How to Talk to a Widower. I laughed, cried and wanted to reread read all the wonderful lines. I know this novel isn’t going to be for everyone but I’m so glad I read it. I will be reading more Jonathan Tropper’s books and I must check out Banshee, which he co-created with David Schickler (who wrote an amazing memoir).

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Posted June 11, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Romance / 0 Comments

The Rosie Project by Graeme SimsionTitle: The Rosie Project (Goodreads)
Author: Graeme Simsion
Published: Text, 2013
Pages: 329
Genres: Romance
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Don Tillman is a highly successful Professor of Genetics, but he is also a very socially awkward single man that believes the solution to all his problems is a wife.  He embarks upon a search to find this wife; The Wife Project is a carefully designed questionnaire to find the perfect match for him. In comes Rosie, not a match, but Don finds himself helping her on search for her biological father.

Chick lit always seems to have a quirky woman looking for love, because apparently the message is that strong independent women are incomplete until they have a partner. That is probably a rant for another day but I have to wonder why Nick Hornsby and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project does not fit into this genre? All the same characteristics are there, the only thing different is the role reversal. My wife jokingly calls the genre dick lit but I don’t know why there is a gender bias in a genre. I thought Seating Arrangements would be considered chick lit but because it had a male protagonist people dismiss it as something different. Not really important but I thought it odd that just because the main character is the wrong gender it doesn’t fall under the same category, which is one of the many problems with trying to categorise books into genres.

Now let’s get back to The Rosie Project; this was an entertaining and quick read that just has too many problems with it. This over hyped book’s major flaw is the portrayal of Asperger’s; much like Addition, a mental health issue (or in this case a pervasive developmental disorder) is the quirky personality. Because underplaying a mental health issue is the answer to making a character quirky; why can’t people just be quirky without having to point fingers? Misrepresenting mental health seems to be the go to move for writers of books, TV and movies and it really isn’t helping people understand these issues. Also while I’m on the topic, why does socially awkward, introverted or quirky have to be considered as problems, why can’t we just be happy for people to be different without having to stick a label on it?

The other major issue I had with The Rosie Project was its predictability; you knew exactly what was going to happen from chapter to chapter and how the book would end. There were no surprises, nothing interesting, just a generic plot. So we have an unpredictable, generic and stereotypical plot; does that leave you with any good points? Not really, just that it was entertaining and there was some decent comedy but in the end I was glad to be done with the book. Remember that old Jack Nicholson movie As Good As It Gets? I have to wonder if this is just a modernisation of that movie, there were so many similarities. I also found a lot of similarities to Addition so I’m not sure if there is anything original left in this book.

For those that don’t mind something so formulaic and predictable, this book is entertaining and you don’t really need to pay attention. I ended up skim reading most of this book and I still felt like I didn’t miss anything, because I guessed what would happen before I read it. I know this book has gotten a lot of buzz lately and I’m still that bitter and cynical old man but I really don’t get it; I don’t see what was so appealing.

Good on Graeme Simsion for taking the world by storm with this novel, the buzz in Australia has started to die down but now the hype is starting around the world. I see it was one of the books been heavily advertised at BEA from Australia (the other being Burial Rites). For that I’m glad it’s doing well, it is nice to see Australian books getting talked about all around the world. Much like The Book Thief, I don’t see why there is so much buzz but I’m still happy when an Australian author reaches the international stage. I’m sure there will be a romantic comedy coming from Hollywood soon, so maybe that is a good reason to read The Rosie Project.