Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I have begun asking people the following question: If you were going to recommend one book (and only one!) to me, what would it be?  And, if I like that response I might follow up with a question about whether or not that answer would be different if I were a man. 

(Total tangential note: For women, I would recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. For men, I'd recommend either Ready Player One or The Martian, depending on age).

The Secret History came to me from one of those recommendations. I've found that when you limit book people to only ONE book, the cream rises to the top and I've rarely been steered wrong by this (although I don't really want to talk about Dr. BB's suggestion - The Rebel by Albert Camus - because he really doesn't seem to GET my literary desires, although to be honest I haven't read it and now feel like I need to ask to borrow his copy) so when this book was just sitting there, shelved exactly where it was supposed to be, a rarity at my public library to be sure, I snatched it up like there were hordes of people lined up behind me in search of this novel published over a decade ago. 

And it was an interesting read.

Summary: Six twits who study "Classics" at a New England liberal arts college do A Very Bad Thing and the whole novel spins a tale about the consequences of that Very Bad Thing.  I mean, you find out the Very Bad Thing in the first paragraph of the book, but I still can't find myself to actually type out what the Very Bad Thing was.  Anyway. All of the characters, our narrator included, are insufferable little pretentious snots.  I don't truly understand a mindset that allows someone to sniff some cocaine and then just drive downtown for some snacks, let alone waking up the next morning and sort of mindlessly wondering if you'd had sex with the girl down the hall. I mean, this was set in the 1990s, so this was not the era of free love.

(Total tangential note #2: I was once with a then-boyfriend/fuck buddy at the apartment of a guy he worked with and my then-bf mentioned to me that the last time he had been at that apartment, people were snorting lines of coke off the coffee table in the living room. I walked out, called a cab, and never saw that guy again.  I mean, I've never smoked pot, let alone KNOWINGLY been somewhere with cocaine or heroin.  And that ex-bf told me that I was naive and foolish and maybe so, but rampant drug use and indiscriminate drinking make me bonkers and this book was SO FULL OF IT. )

Anyway, this is coming off sort of negatively. Despite the dimwits as characters, the strange drug and alcohol use,

(seriously, my college experience was NOTHING like this at all!)

I did enjoy this book. It was gripping and psychologically interesting, the setting was well done, and there was a fabulous, ominous sense of dread that just loomed over every word you read from start to finish, and I think you would probably enjoy reading this book, too.  There's a ton of moral ambiguity that the author develops through characterization and plot. I mean, by the time you get to the Very Bad Thing, you might, as a reader, actually find yourself wondering if it was such a Very Bad Thing after all. Isn't that what you would do, after all? And the answer is NO, OF COURSE NOT, but that's because you wouldn't have gotten yourself into this crazy mess in the first place. But there you are feeling bad that you are a morally reprehensible person who buys that this Very Bad Thing is absolutely a normal response to an abnormal situation when, in fact, it's not. 

So read this.

But it won't be replacing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in my heart any time soon.

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