Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Effect of Living Backwards

The Effect of Living Backwards by Heidi Julavits was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy has 325 pages. I'm not sure how I feel about this book. There were parts where, briefly, I thought it was brilliant. On the other hand there were parts that seemed torturous and convoluted. Now this could be because I have a raging head cold, but I think not. I can see where Julavits wanted to go, but I, personally, don't feel like she quite reached her destination. I'm giving Effects a 2.5. I wouldn't go so far to not recommend it but the brilliant bits boost it above a so-so 2 rating. I am going to go ahead and read Julavits' novel The Uses of Enchantment sometime.

From Publishers Weekly on Amazon:
"When contentious half-sisters Alice and Edith board a jetliner en route to Morocco, where Edith is to be married, they step unknowingly into a vortex of international intrigue when the jet is hijacked-or is it? As events unfold, the motives for this act of "terrorism," apparently a high-stakes stunt being pulled by one of two factions from the International Institute for Terrorist Studies, become ever more murky. In the futuristic and fantastical world of Julavits's second novel (after The Mineral Palace), which takes its title and epigram from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the political and familial machinations we recognize from our own contemporary lives scramble into a kaleidoscopic puzzle. Julavits's rambling surrealism is overlaid and intensified by a strong dose of paranoia … la Pynchon, and the political and the familial merge in the form of a game from Alice and Edith's childhood called "shame stories," in which others are convinced to tell their darkest secrets. These tales, told by the sisters' fellow travelers, are fascinating excursions, a blend of the bizarre and the everyday. But as Alice's wastrel father tells her, "People don't want to be surprised. They want to hear the same story. Tell them the same story and they'll listen," and Julavits follows this advice herself. Beneath its absurdist trappings, her larger tale is surprisingly conventional, its real focus the sibling rivalry between Edith and Alice, shadowed by the terrorism subplots and the veiled references to September 11, or the "Big Terrible." Neither the novel's imaginative framework nor Julavits's cool, unerring eye for detail can quite compensate for its curiously mechanical emotional trajectory. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc."


"Contributing to another person's failure is no small thing. In fact, such contributions can become distressingly addictive, particularly when you're forced into them at gunpoint." pg. 11

" 'They didn't tell me shame stories, per se,' I corrected her. 'We were scared witless and bored. People tell you personal stuff when they're scared witless and bored. I'm a good listener, or possibly I'm just bland and forgettable.' " pg. 34

"I didn't need three-and-change semesters of grad school to learn that people rarely tell the truth about themselves. I have been lied to enough times to realize that a lie, when delivered in a confessional context, is really a fussied-up truth; that people do not tell accurate stories about themselves when they are given the chance." pg. 60

"'I advise that you keep to the essentials, unless you want me to disfigure your sister.'
I wanted to say to him, But how can you be so certain that is not my fondest wish?" pg. 89

"Of course we love each other, in a complicated manner, Edith and I, our love expressed more often than not through our attempts to confound each other, attempts that were nonetheless infused with the knowledge that we depended on each other's hostile presence to feel defined and alive." pg. 110

"Despite your fear that the world is a lonely place, it is precisely the opposite that should unnerve you." pg. 322

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