Sometimes, books have “reading group” questions at the back, and most of the time, I don’t know about these sections until I get to the back of the book. This is one of those books where I wish I’d read the questions before going into it. They’re a little spoilery, but they would have given my brain something better to chew on than the things it did chew on while I tried to figure out this book. I would say it’s a good book, well written, carefully devised and vividly told- but I just didn’t get into it. I got to page 220 and put it down for over a month, uninterested in finishing the last 50 pages because… meh?
I didn’t like the book enough to write my own summary, so here’s the book jacket one: “Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, “Folly”, tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, “Folly” also suggests an aspiring novelist’s coming-of-age. By contrast, “Madness” is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda”
I think my main problem is that I don’t want to read a book about a writer. Kind of like how I don’t like seeing plays about being in a play, or TV shows about putting on TV shows. Halliday uses the two authors in the book to show the asymmetry of their relationship- the ways in which it is not equal and not fully realized as a result. She does it well; I’ve been in relationship with an older man who was also an artist in the field I worked in, and there are things that you have to let wash over you, but Alice seems to exist in a constant state of being-washed-over. Maybe that’s the point, but is it one I want to spend over 150 pages with? Not really.
The second half of the book is actually about someone who is not a writer, and who has lived a very different life from our first protagonist, but it still dragged on and on and on. Amir is in a holding space at Heathrow, and you really, truly start to feel the mundane aspects of that with each and every page and each and every detail of his life. I don’t know why I found Amir boring- his story is ostensibly interesting, but it feels artificial and thoroughly manufactured, so I didn’t care who he was or what he wanted or where he was going, I just wanted to figure out his connection with Alice.
I don’t really know why the publishers described this book as “urgent” there was so little about it that really struck at the heart of what life is like in the 21st century.