Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Good Harbor by Anita Diamant

This is one of those books that leaves me feeling ambiguous. There are things I liked about it. There are things I didn't like about it. It certainly wasn't one of those books that seized me until I just had to tell everyone else to read it. But it also wasn't one of those books that left me angry and ranty. (There's been a lot of ranting recently, hasn't there?)

I'm going to digress for a minute. I'm well aware that after the first week that these reviews are posted that they exist in a place where no one will read them in order, or reverse order. People may look for a specific book, but the reviews more or less exist in isolation, unless perhaps we're talking about different books in the same series.

And yet, even knowing that, I often write these reviews with a chronological sense. No one may ever again read this review shortly after the one on The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute, and so when I talk about reading two books about overdone guilt close together, it will likely be baffling.

That doesn't, however, change the fact that I did read these books in the space of a short period of time. Because I did, I noticed the overdone guilt more than I might have had it been one book by itself. So I'll continue to write my reviews as though they'll be read in the order in which I wrote them, because that's the only way I can capture how my experience of reading was altered by the order in which I read, and what else was going on in my life that made some things pop out and others recede into the background.

That was a roundabout to say I'll keep reviewing the same way, but it's something I've been thinking about.

Because this review is going to be about how overdone the guilt was in Good Harbor, and yet it's not something that would have jumped out at me quite as much if it hadn't come so close on the heels of the utterly unrelated The Breaking Wave. 

This is a book about two women who forge a friendship, one who is trying to get over the death of her toddler son 25 years previously, the other who is distant from her husband and pushed away by her teenage daughter.

Let's talk about the good stuff. Anita Diamant does write female friendship very well. I can see the appeal of the book, and the message, although I am always vaguely discomfited by an insistence that true intimacy is only possible between women, and husbands are just right out as potential people to share your feelings with.

Is my marriage really that abnormal? I have wonderful, amazing female friends who I wouldn't change for the world. But I also have an incredible husband, and the first thing I did after I got home from a long day yesterday was to snuggle up in bed with him and just talk for about an hour. If the person you're spending your life with isn't someone you can have both a casual conversation with and someone to whom you can unburden yourself...then what is the point?

That aside, the female friendships are strong. The part that I didn't like so much was the overdone guilt of the mother who had lost a child 25 years earlier. I get guilt around that. I do. But to think that the universe gave you breast cancer because you read a book to another child at some point in your life? That's guilt verging on the pathological.

And it gets worse, and this is where it really got under my skin as an essentially solipsistic guilt - when one of the main characters persists in looking at her sister's agonizing death from breast cancer as somehow punishment for having lost her own child. That's right - she looks at someone else she loves' death, and tries to make it all about her. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable that made me.

Also, her entire family fell into the trap of just...not talking to each other, and everyone knowing they weren't talking to each other, and it all boils down to everyone thinking no one else wanted to talk. I think that's fine for the start of a book, but when it carries all the way through to the last chapter, it feels like false drama. If there are serious and pressing reasons why people don't talk, that's one thing, it's another when it's just "I thought you didn't want to talk about it."

I'm done griping. I promise. This book was pretty good. Not really my cup of tea, but not bad. And there were a few places where it tread on personal irritants. Take from it what you will. 

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