Wednesday, June 19, 2013

you either have the feeling or you don't

I've never been in a relationship, which is weird to think, at nineteen (almost) that I've never really felt anything for any other person besides a deep longing and the odd desire when you meet someone and you want to learn more, and the melancholy that follows when you never see them again. I've never been in love but I have been in extreme like, I almost dated a boy but backed off because I'm too busy being free.

But I feel like I know a lot about love. Enough to advise on it, to know when love is love and not lust and I probably have to actually experience to be confident in my ability to write about it, but regardless, this knowledge comes from my deep-seeded love of reading, which I could talk about for days upon days upon days and I've already talked about it before.

ANYWAY before I start rambling on and on about reading and how literature turned me into the person I am today, I want to take a second to talk about a small, beautiful book that literally ruined my life and that book is Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. Handler, if you didn't know, is Lemony Snicket IRL (in real life).

I feel like WWBU is a hidden treasure when it comes to contemporary YA lit, which is unfortunate. Teens these days are caught up in the fantasy of fairies and demons and witches and vampires and werewolves and dystopias or whatever the big YA fiction trend is. I like the trends. God knows I had my own Twilight phase back in 2008 (which I am so totally out of...maybe). But these days I am always looking for refreshing, unique YA books and WWBU is just that.

This isn't really meant to be a review, though I suppose it can be called just that. Beware ahead for MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK!!!!

Okay, first of all, this book is illustrated by the wondrous Maira Kalman, whose work I am unfamiliar with other than what I've seen in the novel. Secondly, it is an epistolary novel, with a refreshing, relatable narrator (beautiful, pretentious Min Green), sent with a box of things to Min's now-ex-boyfriend, popular (hearthrobbreaker) Ed Slaterton. And thirdly, it is absolutely wonderfully encapsulating and simple and well-done, as a narrative should be.

I'm not biased because this is one of my favorite books, I swear. Or because a few people have reminded me that Handler's prose reminds them of my own. The story drives the characters and the characters drive the story. Not to mention that Handler is a however-old dude writing from a teenage girl's perspective and I'm all about gender neutrality, but regardless, Handler really gets what it's like to be a teenage girl, which is sort of something in its own world (I mean, have you seen The Virgin Suicides? Or read the book? Because Jeffrey Eugenides totes gets this, too.) Being a teenager, even, can be hard to understand when you're outside the realm of being a teenager and I'm not trying to call Handler old or writers old I'm just saying that from my own experience it can be really hard to write something convincing when you have no idea what it is like to feel a certain thing.

Which is why some creative writing prompt classes are so bogus but as writers we're supposed to stretch our braincells to convey creatively what we haven't yet felt. Whatever.

WWBU discusses why, exactly, Ed and Min have broken up by revisiting their relationship from the night they met to the day Min dumps this box of things that remind her of him on his door step and there's the great quote from made up musician Hawk Davies that is also the title of this post: "You either have the feeling or you don't," and throughout the narrative Min asserts that, by the end of it all, as she's writing this letter of why they broke up, she no longer has whatever the feeling is:
"I stopped looking at her and looked, my God it was beautiful, at you. I kissed you. I can feel it, my mouth on you, I have a feeling now of the feeling I had then, even though I don't have it anymore."
For me, what is so absolutely devastating about this book is that the narration allows you, the reader, to get into Min's head. Ed is perfect, at first, beautiful and frustrating and charming and oh my God you fall in love with Ed just like Min does so when the catalyst for why they broke up emerges arrives, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER IF YOU WANT TO READ DO NOT PASS GO
that he's cheated on her (cheated on me, more like) this whole time it's - it's devastating. It's honestly one of the worst things that's happened to me, literarily, worse than any Harry Potter death, worse than the horror at learning that Edward and Bella were having a mutant demon child, thus ruining Twilight for me forever more.

It feels now, six months or so after reading it for the first time, like a breakup. Like I am Min, that we are the same person, that Ed was my boyfriend who cheated on me and now I feel like throwing up anytime I think about him.

IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ME you know that the way I absorb literature is highly personal and affects my day-to-day life, if it's really good fiction. And WWBU was no different. It left me in a book hangover and now when I read really random quotes like this:
"I put it in my drawer, whatever it is, and then in the box, and now it's for you to flush and forge about. Who knows, a seed of some kind, a fruit, a pod, a unicorn loping through the underbrush where we lay together. Put it in water, I could have done, taken care of it and who knows what might have grown, what might have happened with this thing from the park where I loved you, Ed, so much."
I start feeling like the world is closing in on me.

I had to put the book down and cry five different times while reading this book. Taylor Swift's 'All Too Well' was on repeatin the background and I had to go parasailing in the afternoon with my brothers. I'm not even kidding, this is the life I lead when I read this book that wrapped its stupid arms around my heart and broke it and is currently holding the broken pieces hostage.

I may have never been in a relationship and every almost-relationship I've been in may have been stopped, halted prematurely, by me personally, but I've already been broken up with and I only have Daniel Handler to blame thank.

 (But honestly:
"Twenty-six," you said. "One for each day we've been together, Min...And I hope that someday I'll do another something stupid and I'll have to say it a million times because that's how long it'll be, together with you, Min. With you."
How could this happen to me? My life is ruined.)

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