BINGO – SHELFIE
There is a long form improv format called the Harold. Boiled down, improvisors create three distinct story lines that, throughout the run time of the show, weave together into a single story. All of the seemingly disparate characters and story lines are actually all connected in hilarious and often ludicrous ways, and everyone has a great time. (If you feel comfortable doing so, I encourage you to find a local improv troupe that performs the Harold because it’s a hoot; definitely my favorite form to perform.) The Glass Hotel is basically a Harold but instead of being hilarious and fun, it’s depressing and tragic. Because so much of the enjoyment of this book is unraveling and reweaving together all of the character’s lives, my plot description is going to be intentionally vague. The novel centers Vincent and her brother Paul as they find their way in life. Along the way, there’s a Ponzi scheme, manslaughter, trauma, drug use, love affairs, luxury, living on a boat and in an RV, and destruction. It’s a wild ride.
Just like a Harold, the point of view switches regularly through the novel. There is no one narrator nor is there one focus though Vincent does feature prominently throughout. This switching of points of view kept me off balance. Just when I felt I was about to be completely settled in to character or storyline, Mandel switches focus. Ultimately, this switching served the story. There’s a sense of the proverbial house of cards being built with each decision and each event throughout the novel. Everything is constantly on the edge of collapse, and switching points of view adds to that uncertainty and imbalance.
What I appreciated the most about The Glass Hotel is how captivated I was by each and every character despite the fact that they would be completely boring outside of the events initiated by financial investor Jonathan Alkaitis. Katy Waldman in the New Yorker highlights Mandel’s ability to push everyday people into situations outside of their norm in stating that “[Mandel] plants her flag where the ordinary and the astonishing meet.” If you were to lift any one character (except for Alkaitis) out of this story, they would be boring. Their lives would be wholly uninteresting. Yet, Mandel has written a story that doesn’t just push ordinary people into extraordinary situations but rather she uses those extraordinary situations to highlight how wonderful the ordinary can be.