Rules for Saying Goodbye, Katherine Taylor

At last, a review for a book I finished last month.  I didn’t review it before because I had so many anger feelings at the hurricane.  However, we finally have power back.  A tree fell right on my aunts’ house and took it out completely, while they were inside, but they’re okay – probable PTSD aside – and their four dogs are okay.  Our fall holiday got cancelled and I lost thirty pages of a story I was writing under mysterious yet-to-be-explained circumstances.  Gustav was vile, and going to the grocery stores is like being in the Great Depression.  No more hurricanes.

Anyway.  Rules for Saying Goodbye was recommended by but I didn’t care for it so much.  It is all about a fictional Katherine Taylor, which bothered me more than I had expected it to.  I’m a very family-oriented person, so I kept worrying about her mother and father and her cousins and aunts and uncles because of how awful they were in the story, and I was thinking, Is it okay with them that she’s writing these awful things about them? The only nice person was her brother Ethan.  And I know it’s fictionalized, but I couldn’t get my brain to stop thinking about how fictionalized it was, and what bits were true, and what bits weren’t.  The fictional Katherine Taylor talks dysfunction.  Much dysfunction.  Dysfunction in many incarnations.

I thought it was sad.  I wanted it to be funny, but it was just sad.  Maybe it’s like The Royal Tenenbaums, incredibly funny if you think that unhappy dysfunctional people are funny, but otherwise kind of sordid and depressing.  (I didn’t find The Royal Tenenbaums one bit funny.)  I read it quite quickly, and I guess I enjoyed it, but it was so sad that I think it balances back out to neutral.

Positive things: it was well-written.  Ms. Taylor is much with packing a lot of emotional meaning into brief phrases and incidents, which I deeply admire and which is something many writers are unable to pull off.  The eponymous chapter is very good – though a little jarring in how different it is to the rest of the book, and it might have been better off as an instructional poem, which evidently was her original plan for it – and she is a veritable goddess of the vignette.   I bet her short stories are very good.

On the downside, there wasn’t much of a thematic thread tying everything together.  I can’t remember who said the thing about life not being one damn thing after another, but the same damn thing over and over; however it definitely applies to this book.  She keeps encountering the same problems and dealing with them in the same way, and nothing ever changes.  No setting of boundaries (I am all about boundary-setting).  No developing into maturity on the part of any character.  It’s sparkling dialogue and witty descriptions of the same damn thing over and over.  While some of the characters, particularly Page, Ethan and the mother, are extremely vivid, a lot of them, including major ones, don’t ever really snap into focus – the father, Richard, Clarissa.  And as well, I have to say, it came off a little insincere to me.

I think this book would have been better off as a series of short stories.  It’s clever but it’s not very together, and it doesn’t manage (or try, actually, so I can’t criticize it for that) to pull off that whole Oscar Wilde I-am-so-clever-and-wittily-charming-I-don’t-even-need-a-sensible-plot thing (very few people can, though – Oscar Wilde and PG Wodehouse are the only two people that come to mind, and Earnest was a play and may not count).  So I was dissatisfied with the vignettiness of Rules, in the end.

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