Tag Archives: trauma

Educated: Not so much about school as it is about trauma

In urging me to read *An Education*, folks suggested I’d like it for a few reasons: the celebration of the university as the epicentre of ideas and learning (which I don’t hold to be true, but people must think I hold to be true); the fascination of the memoir genre in self-consciously commenting on what can be remembered and what must be fabricated (and the blurring of both) that recalls my enjoyment of historical fiction; and the irresistible lure of a cascading catalogue of trauma and violence, that predictably pulls the reader in wondering what new horror might be visited upon our protagonist.

I did like the book. And for the reasons predicted by my friends and book-recommenders. Though I’d say the first suggestion – and one blatantly made by the title (and certainly in the marketing of the book) – that this book is about the educational transformation wrought by the university, is misleading. Very little of the book is spent at the physical space of the university, and Tara, our protagonist (I suppose in a memoir we don’t call them protagonist so much as author?), seems ambivalent about what the university itself offered her in terms of education or transformation. Rather, and I appreciated this, her ‘education’ takes place in the shift from home to university, the conceptual journey as much as the physical. Sure she learns facts and explores ideas in ways never open or offered to her before, but the book focuses much more on how the space and culture of the university transforms her sense of self and what might be possible for her self, rather than what facts she accumulates.

To step back – by her account, Tara is raised in the Idaho mountains by parents who neither send her to school nor offer formal education at home. Instead she spends her childhood working in the family junkyard and navigating the twin dangers of a physically abusive brother and an emotionally abusive father, and the effects of this abuse on her sense of self and worth. Much is made in the press coverage of the fact that her parents are ‘survivalists’ preparing for the end of days, but I’d caution that the book doesn’t make as much of this aspect of her childhood as the marketers might have you believe, so if you’re hoping for a catalogue of food and fuel stockpiling, you’ll get some of that, but the narrative recognizes the gratuity of these moments of her life and rather than emphasize her difference from the reader, seems intent on demonstrating that while the particulars of her experience may be extreme, the experience ad effect of living in abuse is altogether common.

Long sentence!

Anyway.  It’s not a perfect book and I have some complaints. It fits well with the other books in this genre in that it…

And that’s where I left this post when I started writing it two weeks ago. So I’ll have to trust past Erin that the novel fits well in the genre. And that I have complaints. I bet you have complaints! What didn’t you like about the book? Let’s share responsibility for finishing this post…

 

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Filed under Bestseller, Non-fiction

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things: If You’re Not Sure What to Choose for Book Club, Read This.

I fell behind on posting. I’m catching up, but I knew I’d read at least three things that I needed to post about, and I tried to remember the book I was forgetting. I eventually came to it – Bryn Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – and then bam! the whole novel was back with me. So it was at once forgettable (in that the story obviously didn’t linger in my mind), but wholly memorable (in that once triggered I could recall the whole thing).  Continue reading

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Filed under Book Club, Fiction, Prize Winner

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Yet Another Peculiar Protagonist Seeking Community.

Yet another novel about a peculiar protagonist who begins the novel alone and misunderstood and who ends the novel connected with community and understanding her quirks as endearing and/or strengths. I suppose if I hadn’t read so many novels with the same plot and with the same variations on character theme I might find this one endearing. But as it is, I’ve had quite enough of this sort of thing.

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Filed under Bestseller, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction

Lost in September: I predict a Giller nominee.

One of the skills I developed during my undergraduate degree was finding connections among the books I was reading for different courses. I’d hear about an idea in one course and take that idea and put it to work in another; or I’d notice themes from one novel resonating in another course that might be distant in time or geography. I’m not sure whether this cross-reading was intention on the part of the program (I’m pretty sure not) but the consequence was that I took personal pleasure in finding these moments of connection or overlap. I’d probably have made for an excellent thematic critic. Alas. I raise all of this because even now with the combination of my terrible memory and my appetite for reading I often find myself midway into a book and certain I’ve recently read something similar, or surprised that everyone seems to be writing about X topic (which probably owes more to how I select what I read than the novels themselves…). Continue reading

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prize Winner