Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Some books start out with such promise, then fizzle away into strange drivel until their awkwardly forgettable endings. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (Ken Kalfus, 2006) is, I regret, one of those books.

Before I go into where it went wrong, let me show you how great this book could have been: Marshall and Joyce Harriman are NYC professionals stuck in the nasty/dull middle of their divorce when 9/11 happens. Both have reason to believe the other dies in the attacks, and experience glimmers of excitement in the midst of tragedy. When both then return home, to the cramped but expensive apartment they still share with their two small children, they face disappointment and the realization that their divorce must go on, with or without national turmoil.

I think a lot of Americans are interested in reading stories about marriage, failed marriage, the confusing and awful intricacies of failed marriages, and broken family dynamics set up against the backdrop of recent history--not because we are morbid or nosy or grossly attracted to others' misfortunes (which we can be), but because these are all very real, relatable things, regardless of our marriage statuses and political leanings.

Now that we are all excited about this story, here's the spoiler: it has no follow through. Or it has follow through, but it's very odd. It also takes some creative licenses with history in ways that were both unsettling and unsatisfactory, especially in the post-9/11 and post-Osama bin Laden, yet mid-conflict/war/whatever it is we are engaged in world we live in today. This book was published in 2006, so Kalfus created his own ending for a drama that still unfolds. I wasn't a fan, not just because of the inaccuracies, but because of the characters' reactions--droll. I didn't like either Joyce or Marshall, which is probably the intended effect, but makes for an uninvested read.

Somewhere along the line, this story that packed so much initial punch faded. I wanted to know more about Marshall and Joyce: Why are they getting divorced? chief among my questions. We learn there are a lot of little things that add up, but we never get to the nitty gritty. What are those little things? Who are these people, really? I also didn't care so much for their oddly named children, Viola and Victor, who sometimes acted age appropriate and sometimes spoke with too much premeditated clarity for their four- and two-year old selves.

Several other scenes added to the off-putting-ness of the book--a drug-filled house party ending in what I read as the rape of a young boy (another review calls it "sexual humiliation") and a casual suicide bomb encounter too glib for me (even if this is a satirical novel, no other scenes depart from reality quite this much, making it seem out of place)--until I was practically skimming the final pages just to finish, hoping for something to redeem it at the end. No such luck. The book ties a clumsy bow on a package not fully wrapped.

No comments:

Post a Comment