A light read for this month’s book club pick, Less by Andrew Sean Greer was delightful. I felt that it didn’t take itself too seriously despite the main character going through a mid-life crisis. (As I think of Arthur Less now, Hari ng Sablay plays in my head — and now on YouTube.)
The story is essentially of a middle-aged man who goes on a trip around the world to distract himself from his boyfriend’s wedding and his 50th birthday. The premise is meh, okay, I admit, but it’s the execution that captured my heart. So background: Less is a wash-up whose writing career is failing; he takes up some “odd jobs” or freelance work (or whatever equivalent in the writing industry) to stay (or, to become) relevant. In the midst of all the travel and flashbacks, there were two ideas that hit close to home:
Enjoy your youth: There was a scene in the book where we are told that it’s sad to hear of 25-year-olds talking about the stock market. Ouch. As a young professional in financial services, I’m too far gone for this. I live a “sad” life, but I get it: live life without worries.
Love yourself: Another moment in the book talks about how the protagonist in Less’ new novel is just not likable, and Less justifies it by saying that the character is a middle-aged man and that’s just how it is. Well, it’s not. Less rewrites the book and gives his protagonist more oompf and lurve, and if you tell me his story book character is not an extension of himself, we’re going to have a debate here.
Refreshing read. Much needed given that quarter-life crisis is a thing nowadays.
One story a day—or at least each time I picked up Refugees—and I finally finished the book. I was very pleasantly surprised each time I read a new story. While there was an overarching theme of the Vietnamese immigrant experience, each story was told from a different perspective. (My favorite story was actually told from the point of view of a Hispanic— if I recall correctly—immigrant.)
Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s characters were not perfect; they were realistic. I appreciated that the writer didn’t feel the need to have the audience like the characters. It’s fine; one doesn’t need to love the characters to recognize that the immigrant experience was difficult for everyone.
This book is definitely worth picking up! I have to admit though: the reason I didn’t finish Refugees sooner was that the first story was sad, and I didn’t want to read a collection of sad stories. They’re not all like that! I highly recommended reading Refugees.
Also, if you haven’t read The Sympathizer, that’s a great read, too. The first few chapters are a little hard to get through, but be patient! It was also hard to put down once the story got rolling.
Some people have a knack for making legitimately bad situations sound funny. Think: Chandler Bing who uses his sense of humor as a defense mechanism through the weird and unpleasant moments of life.
I was reading We are Never Meeting in Real Life on a long haul flight and thought it would be a light read throughout. The tone was rambly and self-deprecating—sounded like how I would if I were to write a book. OK, so I was entertained.
And then I hopped off the plane, found my way back to work, and tried to finish the next half of the book after a long day at the office, and I realized that the essays were actually about many unfortunate situations, so slightly depressing, and while the tone sounded funny, it wasn’t comical funny. It was I-can’t-believe-this-is-how-life-is funny.
Among everything, it was the love essay that got to me. The one about the detached med school guy she was unhealthily obsessing over. Ouch. IDK, I didn’t feel like that was funny to read about. I was cringing, actually. When the dating game (yes, it’s such a game!) is so ridiculously skewed to the advantage of undeserving men, well, it’s not funny to hear about a fellow female making a fool of herself.