This book, much like its protagonist Helen Moran, doesn’t really know what it wants to be. And that’s ok most of the time because a suicide implies a mystery in a way not every other death does. And so a book about a suicide can be a mystery, and because it’s about grief, it can be a wandering, wayward affair with no real issue.
I am teaching Hamlet, and today we talked about the “To Be or Not To Be” speech and the students grappled with some of the different interpretations of it. One example I give students is to think about it possibly as an expression of deep existential frustration about life, but ultimately an expression than a desire. One student suggested he was killing off the rational part of his mind in order to better move down the path of vengeance. Sounds pretty cool to me.
Like Hamlet, the suicide in this novel doesn’t allow for simple explanations. The way it’s set up is to give us an offbeat and frustratingly unstable (but not suicidal) narrator, whose adoptive brother has died. Both of them are Korean adoptees to white parents and so the distance between the family members has allowed for a physical and emotional estrangement. And the uncertainty in the main character’s life also allows for a similar level of estrangement to her own life and situation.
This is a book about questions and quests, but not about answers. My mild history with suicide has involved survivors trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of them and looking toward any clue, source, method or process of understanding but not really finding anything that can explain it.
This book works on a similar level. It’s a journey with an impossible goal. It’s oddly funny at times, and it’s pretty good.