Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago…but hey, this is a relatively newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her first novel once more. Plus, her latest, Get Lucky, hits stores today!
Confession: I am a despicable creature. Despicable in the sense that I failed to fulfill a promise to Random House—the folks who believed I could, at the very least, string a few coherent sentences together in support of Katherine Center’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, within a timeframe that one would reasonably expect a one-armed Capuchin monkey to accomplish the same.
Let the flogging begin.
Needless to say, I’ve had said bookish wonder in my possession for 229 days (Gasp!) and until now have yet to utter so much as a syllable never mind an entire post regarding the worthiness of this extraordinary book.
Perhaps the monkey would have been a better bet.
Of course, I’ve been extremely busy harvesting all sorts of lame excuses to explain away my shameful behavior. The muse left me. Someone hid my thesaurus. The dog needed to be walked—some 700 times (a conservative estimate). I needed to buy some blue swirly stuff for the toilets (which I shall use one day soon). The children needed to be ferried to camp…to soccer…to dance…to swim lessons…to McDonald’s. Furthermore, 87 sidewalk chalk villages, 43 blanket forts and roughly a dozen worm cakes needed to be created.
You get the idea.
In any event, you need to buy this book. Immediately or sooner. Abandon your beloved computer this very instant, sprint to your local bookstore and demand that Center’s debut novel be placed within your hot little hands at once—lest you die not having savored this 225-page nugget of remarkableness. It is a positively scrumptious read, in every palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible sense of the word. Indeed, I was smitten from Paragraph One till the bitter end and completely wooed for a host of reasons: I was charmed to death by its cast of characters, intrigued by the narrative’s wealth of unpredictability and awed by Center’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales.
Perhaps more importantly, for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments solitude was mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world faded to black as I sank deeper and deeper into the pages of this literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before my house began to stir, and in the quiet of night when day was done, I dissolved into the woodwork of life—having been transported beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. I’d like to think I emerged as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.
Truth be told, I was physically incapable of putting the silly thing down once I started, although I had to lock myself in a closet a few times in order to fend off the barrage of distractions (i.e. needy children and pets) that periodically rain down on me like a scourge. Hence, the delay in providing the blurbages here before you. Confession: I read Bright Side two sinfully indulgent times. Okay three. It was that good.
At the risk of sounding completely cliché, I felt as though I knew the fictional people that Center created. I could hear them saying whatever it was they said. I could imagine them doing the sorts of things she had them doing and by all accounts, the trip to Breastfeeding Hell she so vividly described made my toes curl. By the same token, her portrayal of the warm and wonderful kisses her knight-in-shining-armor so passionately planted made me melt. Okay, I was a puddle upon the floor. A veritable pile of mush incapable of rational thought.
Jenny, the central figure in Bright Side, was a wholesome and impossibly optimistic creature, yet at her very core a womanchild whose raw and perilous journey to the banks of motherhood made all who have ever ventured there both pity her plight and celebrate her triumphs and joys. I loved her unconditionally and wanted so desperately to whisper some advice into her ear. By contrast, Dean, that slothful, smarmy bit-of-slime that Center painted as her match-made-in-hell, made my blood boil. Like Jenny, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to light him on fire. Many times over. But of course, she made us peek through our fingers to see the good in him, the part that she fell in love with, the part that helped her picture the family unit they would ostensibly become. Later, I came to understand she had merely fallen in love with the idea of being in love. Dean was convenient, but a fucking train wreck nonetheless. Reading Chapter Five was like buying a first class ticket to that train wreck.
Then in Chapter Seven, she introduced us to Dean’s mother, that feculent and oh-so-haughty beast filled to the very brim with evil. I wanted so badly to choke her. To death. Or very near death, but perhaps not so close that she couldn’t crawl away to a far corner of the earth. Where she would rot.
And then there was Gardner. Earthy. Solid. Nurturing. Downright edible. If a movie is ever spun from this tale, Hugh Jackman must play his role—and he positively must wield a deck of playing cards and a beloved dog like Herman. Likewise, someone Mel Gibson-ish ought to be in the running for Jenny’s dad. In my less-than-professional opinion, it all makes perfect sense.
Needless to say, Center did a marvelous job letting us get to know all the colorful characters woven throughout her story. Jenny’s stylish yet sensible mother, her adoring and infinitely charming father, her thick-and-thin friend, Meredith, her sounding board, Claudia, her nemesis, Tara, the entire cast and crew of her Mommy Group, Dr. Hale, Herman, Dr. Blandon and, of course, Maxie.
Not surprisingly, I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness like the aforementioned in one sitting. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating. I can now add Katherine Center’s material to my list of that which makes me drunk with joy. Then again, chocolate is equally redeeming.
In sum, books like Center’s are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled.
Perhaps the bright side of disaster here (pun intended) is that I’ve redeemed myself somewhat in the eyes of Random House. There’s a modicum of hope anyway that they will be kind and compassionate enough to overlook my ineptitude as a blogger and zip me a copy of Center’s soon-to-be-released second novel, Everyone is Beautiful.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live (sometimes hiding from my children deep within the bowels of a closet, devouring books, of course).
Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel
P.S. Dear Random House Folks: For the record, you’ve already zipped me a copy of Everyone is Beautiful and I’ll likely re-post my review of that as well. Thanks again!