Sunday, January 15, 2012
The Power of "Q." My Thoughts on the Evan Mandery Novel
Well, that sounds pretentious. However, these things have to be titled correctly if I'm ever going to find them again.
I sat up until 2:30 this morning finishing this novel that had been haunting me and after a pot of tea, am finally ready to talk about it.
First, the backstory. I'm an avid reader of agent Janet Reid's blog and a fanatic about entering her contests. In November 2011, she dropped this one on her unsuspecting horde. Seemed simple enough, write a 100-word story about the writers in the photos.
Some of the writers I was familiar with, but not Evan Mandery. So, in the name of due diligence, I downloaded a sample of his latest novel, "Q," and then I killed them all with poisoned tuna sushi and sent them to purgatory to clog dance for all eternity (in my story, yeesh, don't be so literal, I don't have that kind of power, it's not like I'm an editor or anything.)
What I hadn't counted on was being stalked by that literary snippet. I thought about it constantly and knew I had to go back and finish the book. Normally, I am a genre fan. I want shit to drive fast. I want shit to blow up. I want the world to hang in the balance. Hey, it's my party and I'll let 'em fry if I want to. Unless Godot is waiting for his contact who has the missile codes, I'm not interested.
However, from time to time, a literary work sneaks through the barricades and grabs me. I read Larry McMurtry's entire 1100-page Texasville story arc before I realized it was about a guy named Duane who was freaking depressed. So, the moral is, catch me with a compelling premise about interesting characters and you can sneak literary fiction into my genre-laden diet.
The nut of the tale is a fairly ordinary guy meets the shining shimmering woman of his dreams. Q, is in all aspects, lovely, inside and out. The romance, played out in New York at its finest, is captivating.
However, as the wedding looms, the groom is visited by an older version of himself who issues a single warning, "you must not marry Q." The reason is less important than the motives. If he marries Q, it will result in a sorrow that breaks her heart forever, and by association, his. He contrives a fight and uses it as an excuse to break off the relationship, leaving Q hurt and questioning.
That potential future self closed off, he is visited by a parade of future selves, each demanding he follow their path like a toddler with a Tiger Mother. This continues until he is old enough to get in the wayback machine himself and set things right.
The language is lyrical, complex, and evocative. This is not a casual beach read. But, then, neither was Texasville. Sometimes a book with big scary words is good for you. I confess, I could have done without the Freudian novel interlude and my Kindle-clicky thumb did get a bit of a workout. However, that's just personal taste.
The themes are what cut me to the bone. Can you avoid future pain, by "pre-feeling" it now? By living through the anguish of the future in the present and purposely inflicting trauma by breaking Q's heart, is he now spared that future pain?
I think we all know the answer to that. Karma, for lack of a better word, is head-bitch-in-charge. By spending all of his time trying to avoid the hurt and decay he sees in his future selves (one is fat, one is poor, one is obnoxious, all are old), he forgets to live in the present, until there is no more present.
Another question Mandery asks is, "If you could go back in time and spare yourself and someone you love great pain, would you do it?"
This is the one that hit me hardest. In November 2009, at 1:20 AM, there was a knock on the door, with the four words that changed everything, "there's been an accident." By six that morning I was in an intensive care ward discussing DNR orders and pain management. The next four months were nothing but choices and assuming the yoke of a caregiver. He survived, but was horribly disabled. Our marriage did not make it out of the cauldron. The yoke I wear now is financial and the pain of seeing him so hurt and broken.
Long before I had ever heard of Evan Mandery or "Q," I asked myself if I had known the future, would I have glided on past him the day we met?
Now, had I done that I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't have my fabulous friends, or my darling Chihuahuas, or the beautiful old leaky pile of bricks that I call home. I wouldn't have my own novel up on blocks in the garage, constantly tinkering under the hood. I wouldn't have all the knowledge and memories of the good years we had together that shone every bit as bright as those in the early pages of "Q." I wouldn't be me and I'm pretty happy with this version of me.
However, the answer, if I could have been assured his accident would have never happened, probably would have been "yes." The temptation would be too great.
As the old country song says:
"Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance . . ."
And that is the enigma of "Q."
Overall, I give it five snaps up and a bag of chips (you'll need a snack, it's a long haul).
'Q" also wins the delightful-surprise award of the week and makes me a fangirl of the writer. In the weeks before I finished the book, I developed a picture in my head of Q. As a sci-fi geek, I called back to another time travel story where the male lead has to make a heart-wrenching decision about his lady love that will change history. The heroine because fixed in my head as my image of Q.
To know why this delights me, you'll have to read the book.