CBR11 Bingo Square: Listicle
As found on the Book Riot list of “100 Must-Read Bisexual Books” https://bookriot.com/2017/09/21/100-must-read-bisexual-books/
I saw a lot of good reviews for this novel, and was excited to read it, given how it appeared to center on meaningful relationships (my favourite!), as well as the career of a filmmaker (something of great interest to me!). And yet, this is one of those cases where despite seeming like it has a lot of people who love it, I myself just don’t get it, even though I really want to.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark follows the life and filmmaking career of the eponymous Sophie Stark, but through the eyes of five different people she has had some sort of relationship with in her life: her brother, the boy she was obsessed with in college and first person she made a movie about, a girlfriend she coaxed into acting for her, her musician husband, and a film producer who offers her new opportunity. We Sophie as a somewhat mysterious character who doesn’t fit in and tries to explore people through her films, yet inevitably ends up changing her relationships through her work. What is clear from person to person, however, is that despite not always behaving like others and often hurting them, Sophie blows into people’s lives like a gale force and never quite leaves them completely.
On the one hand, I like the idea of telling a story through relationships, and it does leave a bit of mystery and intrigue to the character, yet in this case, it’s maybe a little too much. I just couldn’t crack Sophie or understand what it was about her that everyone was drawn to (I mean, I guess some people just have that energy? But I didn’t get it). She doesn’t quite connect to people and I wonder if the intent was to depict her with some kind of personality disorder, or perhaps on the autism spectrum, which makes me feel awkward saying that I just found Sophie to be cold, selfish, and impenetrable in a lot of ways. It also made the way the narrators talked about her (at times, but not always) make her sound almost like some kind of muse, some kind of mysterious thing that isn’t quite human: not quite an object, but almost, and they themselves really vary in likeability and even seeming importance (one, in fact, doesn’t really come up after one section he narrates and honestly just feels like a stepping-stone to fill in the story). And then along with this inability to crack into Sophie as a character, I also couldn’t get into her work. It’s a hard task to translate film which is inherently a visual medium into words and make it have the same effect, and so I found a disconnect there; I couldn’t understand her career or the draw of people to her work because I just didn’t understand it.
And then of course there is the topic of creatives and artists as shown in this novel. There’s the idea that creating in the truest form needs to cost something: that either the creator will suffer, or the people around them will in order to be authentic and make the best thing they can. And while it’s true that sometimes pain can lead to cathartic or beautiful creations, I hate the hate the idea of the “suffering artist” so often pushed. You don’t need to be in pain in order to do something great! In fact many people are all the more able to do so when they are healthy and well. And for sure, it’s not pretty at the end of this novel as Sophie’s way seems to see her go into a decline, but her decisions as the end are almost romanticized in a way as she dictates the depiction of her “legacy” to be left behind, her last work that is predicated on her death.
So as much as I thought I would enjoy this novel based on the premise, I just couldn’t get into it. While there were glimpses of moments that I liked with the narrator characters (mostly in regards to their own lives and pasts before Sophie), the main arc of the story and protagonist did not hold me.