Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

Fifteen-year-old Miranda has a pretty normal life, until a meteor hits the moon.  It shoves the moon closer to the earth (eek!), which as you might expect does not do good things for the earth.  Tsunamis take out New York and Florida and California; volcanoes begin erupting all over the place, filling the air with ash for miles around.  And Miranda’s family copes.

I first heard about this book shortly after I read Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and I didn’t want to do another girl-copes-with-end-of-world-scenario book straight away, because of how grim How I Live Now was.  But I needed a book to read last night when I was picking my father up from the airport, so here we are.  I read most of it in bed last night – I stopped at a stopping point and switched off the light, and then realized if I didn’t get at least two-thirds of the way through, I wouldn’t be done by this morning in time to return it to the library before going to England, so I switched the light back on and kept reading.

As soon as I reached the scene at the beginning where Miranda and her family go on a shopping craze at the grocery store, I knew I should stop reading.  It was already upsetting, and nobody important had even died yet.  When we have hurricanes on the way, the grocery stores are like this – nothing left, crowds of cars, people filling up enormous jugs of gas for their cars.  I did not like to read about it in Life As We Knew It.

In 2007, I was interviewing a guy at a halfway house in town, and this is the story he told me.  When the hurricane hit (this was Katrina), the water began rising in their house, too high for them to stay there, and they didn’t have an attic.  They had two girls, a four-year-old and a one-year-old.  He kicked down the door to their house, because it was wood and it would float, and they piled a few things on the door, that they weren’t willing to leave behind, jewelry and photo albums.  He put the four-year-old on his shoulders, and the one-year-old on the door, and he and his wife and kids went walking down the highway to get out of New Orleans, floating the door along, with their two girls.  “My little girl’s six now, and she still won’t take a bath,” he said.  “She too scared of water.  My sister been giving her sponge baths.  She live with my sister now.”

And I said, “Not with your wife?”

And he said, “My wife died last year.”

And that is my worst Katrina story.  Not because it’s the worst story out there (not even close), but I just wasn’t expecting him to say that his wife died.  They went through all that and she died anyway.  I felt exactly like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I couldn’t say anything to him for almost a whole minute, and I cried on the way home.

Life As We Knew It is good, but it was way upsetting, and it was the kind of upsetting that I couldn’t stop reading it.  This happened to me once before, with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.  I read it on a car trip, ages ago, and I hated it and I couldn’t stop reading it, and finally I abandoned it on a park bench at the rest stop on the Louisiana border.  If I could have abandoned Life As We Knew It on a park bench at a rest stop, I’d have done that; but it’s a library book so I finished it.  God, it was so unrelentingly bleak and frightening

Well, this is officially the most melodramatic book review I have ever written.  Here are some other, less dramatic reviews, and I am glad that I am not the only person this book scared the crap out of (yeah, I ended that sentence with two prepositions):

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot
an adventure in reading
Tara at Books and Cooks
Bart’s Bookshelf
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
1 More Chapter
Book Addiction
Books on the Brain
Presenting Lenore
bookshelves of doom
Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?
Book Nut
Retro Review
Book Dweeb
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Bookaholic
The Reading Zone
Becky’s Book Reviews
Karin’s Book Nook
The Written World
Mixtures Books
Bonnie’s Books
The Ya Ya Yas
Frenetic Reader
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Book Muncher
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Tiny Little Reading Room
Reading Rants
The Story Siren
Life and Times of a New New Yorker
Suey’s Books
The Sleepy Reader
It’s All About Me
Laurel’s YA Book Reviews
Unmainstream Mom Reads
Sadie Jean
Experiments in Reading
Liv’s Book Reviews
Charlotte’s Library
Thoughts of Joy
Just One More Page

Phew.  Let me know if I missed yours!

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken

My God, this book was sad. It was so, so, so sad. It was just so unrelentingly sad. Even when she wasn’t particularly talking about anything sad, still it was incredibly sad. I cried a lot, especially at the end. And I’ve never even had a baby! Imagine if I had had a baby and I read this book, which is Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir about how her baby was stillborn. That would have been way much even sadder.

However, it was well-written and interesting. And it had lots of good bits, and Elizabeth McCracken endeared herself to me forever and ever and ever by saying this about New Orleans from her visit there in 2007 (I believe it was 2007):

Spring had arrived just ahead of us, in the form of actual blossoms – magnolias – and the weird kudzu of flung-from-floats Mardi Gras beads in the trees. The city was all blue skies and light breezes and raw nerves and melancholy. Most everyone we met was on edge, some so heartsick we worried, even if we hadn’t met them before. They seemed frozen. Something had happened. It had been a year and a half, and if you weren’t in the middle of it you might lose patience: New Orleans, why can’t you get over it? We were very sorry for you for a while. Now there are other things to be sad about. It’s not your time anymore. Pull yourself together.

Of course it felt familiar, as wretchedly presumptuous as that sounds. … The people we saw, old friends and strangers, had left and come back, and now they were waiting for the next disaster, the next murder, the next hurricane, the next levee failure, the loss of their home, the revocation of their homeowner’s insurance, and still of course at the same time they had to hope. Hadn’t they come back for that reason, because they hoped?

Me, too: same place, remembering the disaster, trying to believe it would not come for me again.

Ouch. It made me sad to read that. Poor New Orleans. That whole “City That Care Forgot” thing now depresses me hugely. But as a Louisiana girl I was glad she said that, and as a girl from a high-anxiety family I was glad she said this:

Our religion is worry; we performed decades of it.

And this was good:

Now what I think that woman in Florida meant is: lighter things will happen to you, birds will steal your husband’s sandwich on the beach, and your child will still be dead, and your husband’s shock will still be funny, and you will spend your life trying to resolve this.

As for me, I believe that if there’s a God – and I am as neutral on this subject as is possible – then the most basic proof of His existence is black humor. What else explains it, that odd, reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city.

Elizabeth McCracken is a good writer, so I enjoyed reading the book, but it was very, very, very sad, and I will probably never find it necessary to read it again. Still, I really liked the things she said about grief – so maybe I will read it again. I can’t decide. This is the second (or third?) book this month that I’ve read about on Caribousmom‘s website and then really liked a lot, so thanks for that!

Busy freaking out

I have been reading books but not posting reviews of them.  This is mainly due to three factors: school having started, me having a ‘sode, and the damn damn damn hurricane.

I’m going to go ahead and blame it mostly on the hurricane, though that really isn’t fair.  But who cares?  HURRICANES ARE VILE.  Today a really loud whooshing noise woke me up which may have been a great big enormous jet plane going over my head, and I suspect that this is ALL THE FAULT OF THE HURRICANE.  I say no to hurricanes.  No more hurricanes.  Not one bit of a nasty unpleasant hurricane.  Definitely we will have to wait on having more hurricanes until someone has developed a workable group therapy for PTSD that is focused on things like hurricanes (rather than things like car accidents).  When such a therapy has been developed, then we can talk about it.  It will be another few years.  BACK OFF, GUSTAV.