I bought it before I found out it was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
We finished the second season of “Top of the Lake.” But there was no lake, the action shifted to Sydney, and it did not ring true until about halfway through, then I got hooked. And I’ve also become an Elisabeth Moss fan, she closed me in this series, previously I’d found her too muted, too much in the background.
And then we shifted to “Fortitude,” on Amazon.
Winter is coming. I yearn for it. But those bitter cold days in December and January, not when it’s sunny, but dark…they make you yearn for summer, what a conundrum. But I’m into the winter lifestyle, I lived it for years, but not in years. Is it still the same, do you still feel isolated with the internet, Amazon and FedEx? I’m not talking about being in a resort area, that’s different. But just a town, and in the coldest of territories they’re all towns, because few want to live there. Everybody knows everybody else’s name and also their business, and I found that limiting. That’s one of the things I like most about Los Angeles, the anonymity. As for people moving away, Gene Simmons is leaving for Washington, I doubt they’ll be happy. It all looks good until you actually live there, and you experience the limitations. Sure, maybe the grocery store is open 24/7, but try getting a late meal, try making new friends, it’s inherently isolating, and if you haven’t lived it you probably won’t like it. As for leaving Los Angeles…you can only do it once, unless you’re rich. You cash out your dwelling for much more than you paid for it, you buy a new and better house for a fraction of the price somewhere else and have all this money left over. Meanwhile, real estate prices keep rising in L.A., and you can’t afford to move back. Think twice before you leave town, but people are impulsive, they always convince themselves it will be better somewhere else.
So “Fortitude” is set in a town north of the Arctic Circle. They don’t make it totally clear where, somewhere north of England and Norway, but the reality is it’s snowed in, all the time. There are glaciers. Kind of like Alaska. Take a cruise to Alaska, especially if you’ve never seen the frontier. You stare out at the endless nothingness and you get afraid, what if you were stranded out there?
And Fortitude, the name of the town, is kept alive by a research institute and a mine, but the mine is closing and there’s a push for a hotel and tourism and…
It’s very bleak. Spring has sprung, therefore it’s not dark all day, but the people are still bundled up, it still snows, the roads are covered in white. I love this landscape. And going outside in the cold makes you feel alive. And the mountains tower, but they’re also your friends, you own them, even though they’re unownable. And yes, “Fortitude” is another crime show, well-reviewed, which is why we’re watching it, but I don’t recommend it to everybody. Because these shows are inherently slow. And if this genre appeals to you, start off with “Trapped,” which is on one of the three big streaming services, I can’t remember which, and the truth is shows shift platforms. And if you want to start off with a book, don’t start off with “Such a Fun Age,” I’m not quite sure I can recommend it.
Like streaming TV shows, I don’t go by popularity, I go by reviews. I find that a lot of what people like is crap. Especially in books. So I was searching. Having gone over the 2020 books numerous times, I decided to tackle the 2019 best of lists. And one of the books that was mentioned was “Such a Fun Age,” they said it was long-listed for the Booker Prize.
Now the truth is oftentimes the winner of the Booker Prize is unreadable. Readability is not the main criterion in book competitions. But I downloaded the sample to my Kindle weeks ago and I was looking for a new book and started reading it.
Well, I started a few other samples first, and none resonated. I’m always hesitant to buy a book that bores me right from the start, even if people recommend it, I’m looking for something to engage me, that’s written in plain English, without a plethora of description, that flows like life, and the sample chapter of “Such a Fun Age” did, which is why I bought it.
And the truth is Kindle downloads start at the beginning. Of the tale, not the book. They skip over the cover, title page and table of contents. And I don’t bother with them unless I buy the book itself, since I abandon so many samples. And when I bought “Such a Fun Age” and clicked to begin at the cover I was disheartened to find out it was a Reese pick. I’m not sure I’ll download a Reese pick again. Because they’re made for a special audience. Females. Who don’t want anything too challenging, something that carries along, that can be made into a film.
And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s how “Such a Fun Age” reads, as if it were a treatment for a film, which I’m sure it will be.
But I must say I was drawn to it, I finished “Such a Fun Age” just now, mere days after I bought it. And you want a book calling out to you, especially in these dark days of Covid-19. We turn people off to books at a very young age, reading is seen as a chore. And the books required and recommended too often are the equivalent of eating your Wheaties, and you never want to read one again. If only someone could recommend the good stuff for each and every reader. People say independent bookstores do this, but the people I’m talking about never go into a bookstore, they don’t see it as an emporium of excitement.
So, the main character is African-American. And because so much of the book is set in the upper middle class white world I somehow thought it was written by someone from that world, and I got nervous, could a white woman really write this way, have the characters talk this way? But when I finished the book, I went to the web and did some research, and the author, Kiley Reid, is African-American. Light-skinned. And that’s a theme in this book. You can’t talk about it if you’re white, but if you’re black…how black are you, who do you appeal to, are certain romantic avenues closed to you?
Once again, this is the book. But these are touchy subjects in America today. There are racist people, but does that mean a non-racist person can’t write a book with a racist character, cannot address race at all?
That’s a reason to read “Such a Fun Age,” even though it was written before last spring’s protests. The intersection of white and black. What it’s like being black in America today. Whites think they’ve got it handled, that they know, but they almost never do. And all the issues surrounding this interaction are covered in this book. Should we judge negatively those who bend over backwards to lift up black people, are they doing it for themselves, to make them feel good?
And Emira and all of her friends are educated, they’re college graduates. But that does not mean their culture has been squeezed out of them. And one friend is rich, but Emira struggles. She doesn’t know what she wants, where she wants to be, and she’s aging every day, how is she gonna keep a roof over her head, will she ever get a job with health insurance?
So, Emira is a part time babysitter, for a white family.
And there the games begin.
But there are a lot of games, and not only racial interactions. Do you hate your kid because they need too much attention, do you want to foist them off on the help? Once you have kids and move out of the big city do you lose all your connections, is your career on the road to ruin? We all have wants and dreams, and then life happens and we find out we’re somewhere we never planned to be, oftentimes with an inability to go back to where we thought we once belonged.
And relationships… Do they ever die? Do you ever get completely over one, or do they remain dormant, ready to be activated at any time.
Now the good thing about this book is the expected doesn’t always happen, and when it does, it happens much sooner than it would in other books. You discover the set-up and you sigh, am I really gonna have to wait until the end for these characters to meet? Usually you do, but not in “Such a Fun Age.”
So, if you’re a snob, don’t read this book.
Then again, it’s not pure trash, not by a long shot.
And if you’re a guy…most guys don’t want to read this stuff, even if they’re reading fiction. This is not chick-lit, “Such a Fun Age” is not a genre book, but you can see how it would appeal to women first. And if you follow the fiction business, you know it’s driven by women.
But that does not mean men can’t read “Such a Fun Age.” All the characters and themes were interesting to me. But I love going below the surface, the game board is interesting, but not as interesting as the pieces, the players, what makes them up, what are their motivations?
So, I’m hesitant to recommend “Such a Fun Age.” It’s not a highbrow tour-de-force, this is not Jonathan Franzen, even though Franzen can at times be highly readable. But “Such a Fun Age” does make you think, does open your eyes to issues, and its plot is interesting enough to keep you reading, you won’t want to discard it in the middle.
It’s really hard to do great work. REALLY hard. We’re all looking for greatness and when we find it, we tell everybody about it. The iconic songs, books and movies are such for a reason, all the stars aligned. You’ve got to have the concept and then you’ve got to execute without getting self-conscious. And it’s worst with books, they take so long to write and oftentimes you know you’re off-track long before you finish, what should you do, scrap it or complete it?
Books are not records. Records have to work throughout, books can be imperfect in spots and still be worth reading.
I’m looking for experiences to take me away, make me forget this interactive world where we’re all piling up on each other 24/7. Which is why I’m into “Fortitude,” it’s isolated and it’s slow, what’s happening far away doesn’t matter.
And when you read “Such a Fun Age” you will be engulfed in its world. And even though anybody can read it, the experience is very personal, you truly believe you’re in these rooms, an observer, the characters mean something to you.
That’s another element of so much great art. It’s PERSONAL! Too much is ground down to appeal to everybody, theoretically anyway. But it’s when you dig down and reveal your true self, when you create real situations, that’s when we’re most interested in what you have to say.
Gotta find a new book.