Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Books I've Loved: Still Life With Tornado
I think A. S. King is one of the most interesting writers around at the moment. Her books have an element of the surreal about them, but the core is always about something very real. This book is no exception.
Sarah has basically given up. She won't go to school and she feels like she can't do art, the one thing she has always been good at. And then she starts meeting other versions of herself - a ten-year-old Sarah, a 23-year-old Sarah and a 40-year-old Sarah. Unsurprisingly, she thinks she's going bonkers!
It turns out she's not. She just has something she needs to work through. Something that happened when she was ten and the family went on vacation to Mexico. Something to do with her parents and her much older brother. And something to do with her art teacher and a project she did for the school art fair that never made it to the judging table.
As Sarah starts to remember the traumatic events, the past and the present collide.
I liked the way Sarah's mother had a voice in this book alongside Sarah. Her version of events contrasts with Sarah's, but adds a layer of depth and understanding. I also liked that everyone just accepted the various versions of Sarah without much difficulty, even when all of them were in the same room.
The events unfold slowly, and we learn about what happened at the same pace Sarah does. She's not exactly an unreliable narrator, but because she has repressed so much, we can't trust everything she says.
I really enjoyed this, and recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone who likes their stories just a little off-beat.
But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:
Actually Sarah is several human beings. At once. And only one of them is sixteen. Her parents insist she’s a gifted artist with a bright future, but now she can’t draw a thing, not even her own hand. Meanwhile, there’s a ten-year-old Sarah with a filthy mouth, a bad sunburn, and a clear memory of the family vacation in Mexico that ruined everything. She’s a ray of sunshine compared to twenty-three-year-old Sarah, who has snazzy highlights and a bad attitude. And then there’s forty-year-old Sarah (makes good queso dip, doesn’t wear a bra, really wants sixteen-year-old Sarah to tell the truth about her art teacher). They’re all wandering Philadelphia—along with a homeless artist allegedly named Earl—and they’re all worried about Sarah’s future.
But Sarah’s future isn’t the problem. The present is where she might be having an existential crisis. Or maybe all those other Sarahs are trying to wake her up before she’s lost forever in the tornado of violence and denial that is her parents’ marriage.