Friday, November 26, 2010

A failed experiment

When I settled in Monday night to wait for my dinner with my library book, a slow feeling of horror began to wash over me. It was the exact same feeling I'd get when I was doing my internship in Stockbridge on Saturday mornings. There, we had no TV or internet, my roommate Sophie and I were reliant on books and on one another for our entertainment. The library closed at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and didn't reopen until Monday. So that was my last chance to find something or else it'd be a long weekend indeed, and not the good kind.

I realized almost immediately that Shelly Jackson's "Half Life" was going to be terrible. But I had nothing else with me and was going to be there for about 45 minutes. So I read about 75 pages of this failed experiment.

It could have been interesting. The jacket said it was about siamese twins Nora and Blanche. It said that they were very different: Nora was lively and outgoing, whereas Blanche had been sleeping for 15 years. I was unsure of what that might mean, but it turns out that it's as literal as anything gets in this quicksand of a book. I tried to explain this to my co-worker:

"Wait, so she's dead?"
"No, she's just asleep."
"You mean, in a coma?"
"I guess...sort of...but I don't think so. I think she's just asleep."

Meanwhile, Nora has been going about her life. She is not alone as she would be in our society. "Twofers" have become more common, and it's vaguely explained that "the radiation" has something to do with it. There's a movement, actually, and a community. It seems sort of satirical at first: there's a big convention in town, and radical people like to address her as 'tyou,' as in 'Are tyou going to the film premiere tonight?' Her roommate is described as a 'twin hag.' I guess it had promise.

I'm at a loss to explain why it didn't work, maybe it was the muddy, confusing failed magic realism of Nora and Blanche's birth and conception. Maybe it was because Nora wasn't fleshed out enough as a character, either: we know that she plans to seek separation, that she does phone sex for a living, and that she has two roommates (not counting the permanent one), also, that she's a lesbian, but that's about it. Or maybe it's the rest of the world that's not fleshed out enough. I don't know. It was an odd book, and maybe others will want to give it a go, but it wasn't for me. It's going back, unread, this weekend.

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