3.08.2017

We Are Not Ourselves Book Club: Week 1



Meagan

Woo hoo a new book club and I am loving this pick, serious kudos to Becca TD who found this because it was nowhere on my radar. I like how the transitions are so abrupt, so we see her meet Ed and then suddenly they're married. At one point they're having sex then it skips to her mom having cancer. There's something about it I like. 

Eileen is quite the character and in some ways I feel like she's every girl and in other ways I think she's maybe stronger. She certainly cares a lot about what other people think, or "the trap of other people's regard" but she also somehow thinks she will eventually end up in a place where they will think of her fondly... she's always trying to get somewhere it seems. The scene where she works at the dress store and her friend is in to pick out bridal dresses is almost hard to read because you can tell how embarrassed she is. Even when she meets Ed, she seems so content to accept him as he is and even notes how she likes him for being a bit eccentric but then continues to try and change him subtly. She wants him to be trying to get to the same place she always is trying to get... buying him the watch and the VCR hoping he wants the same luxuries and is equally impressed. There's also something sociopathic but also typically female about her describing herself as a chessmaster with Ed's career. 

It's hard for me to tell what she thinks of her parents and their relationship. In some ways it seems like she admires then but then suddenly it seems like she wants to be nothing like them. Her mom honestly seems to be quite inappropriate. She told her own daughter she got a different sponsor for her citizenship because she knew how much it meant to her dad and she wanted to hurt him... She also on her deathbed tells her daughter she would have traded her whole adult life for one drink, and that she should never fall in love or she's only breaking her own heart. I think these are horrible things to say to your daughter but Eileen doesn't seem to be phased by them? She also seems jealous when she becomes a mom herself, that her own mother has gone and got herself a life and has free time... so again, I don't know if she admires or despises either of her parents.

Eileen's relationship with her dad is even more interesting because it really seems like she admires her dad but she also wants to find a man that's nothing like him. Her dad is a delivery man and hasn't progressed career wise his whole life, where Eileen seems dead set on being with a rich, ambitious man. But then she also wants her dad to respect the man she chooses... I liked the bit where she was drinking and he says she's definitely his daughter and she beams with pride, saying she could go for years off this one comment after a lifetime of unexpressed affection. I certainly can't relate to this as my dad's not really stoic or distant but I understand how she feels and like the way she expressed it. 

Her dad reminds me so much of my late grandpa and I know it will be hard for my mom to read through the bits about him. My grandpa was a detective well respected in the community and the most uncanny similarity is that they both gave up alcohol every year for lent, just to "prove they could". It takes a very particular and hard-headed type of man to think this way. Then, the part where her dad races that young guy just to show he could beat him is also so weirdly like my grandpa, who once raced my own mother and grandmother because we said he wouldn't win. I really liked this character and I was sad to see him die off so early.

I honestly am way too dumb for epitaphs but I'm looking forward to other people's thoughts on them... or if anyone got anything from the story at the beginning about the frog... maybe it will be more obvious as we keep reading. 


Meghan


I vow not to be a monstrous bitch during this book club. But honestly this book already feels like the boyfriend I always wanted given how bad Moby Dick was. It's like when my sister and I went to Montreal and paid $400 a night for a hotel room and the concierge was like polite to us and we thought maybe we would just live there the rest of our lives. Anyways, thanks Becca for the good choice!

Also, let's all congratulate Meg on the chic book club layout that she stole from the New York Times.

Something I have to bring up about the book was that I will usually skim through the couple-sentence reviews at the beginning and I noticed that Chuck Klosterman's wife Melissa Maerz wrote, "A gripping family saga, maybe the best I've read since The Corrections." I was glad to see this because I had just finished rereading and writing a review for The Corrections and really enjoyed going back through it.

As for what I thought of chapters 1 to 13:

This book is easy to read. As of right now it sort of reminds me of a Margaret Atwood novel but I'm not sure why. I think it is because the main character is a woman and born around the same time the characters in Cat's Eye and The Blind Assassin were. 

I loved when she described her first time drinking and then how her father was so proud of how much she could put back:

"She heard a lifetime of unexpressed affection in the words. She imagined she could go for years on it, like a cactus kept alive by a sprinkling of rain." 

God, careful Eileen ... this is how Meg and I have survived in pretty much all of our relationships??? Though I am at a stage in my life where I can't even hold on to a compliment for more than 36 hours.

As for the characters, I sort of hate the father. I hate how weirdly proud he is of himself. I didn't like the mother at all until she went into AA because I find AA to be very interesting. I am also obsessed with the passage where her mother pretty much lays dying saying she wished she never gave up drinking. 

"I didn't touch a drop for twenty-five years. Did it make a difference?" 

I also told Meg that I don't know where I stand on Ed (Eileen's husband) yet. I do sort of admire him for his commitment to his convictions (Meg and I always say we stand for nothing), but he does it to a point that it's unbearable. It would drive me insane to be married to someone like that because I would just feel like a superficial, shallow bitch 24/7. The biggest point of tension in their marriage is that Eileen wants a mansion and Ed won't take a promotion because he "believes" too firmly in his work as a teacher.

The only reason I lean towards Ed is because I love any character that has a PhD in biology. Ed's research has something to do with the West African mouthbreeder fish and decision-making abilities. I already wish this is what I studied in university ... I have recently decided I'm about 80 per cent ready to go back to school and get a degree in biology so I can fight the spruce budworm in New Brunswick ... the provincial budget allocated $2 million for the fight so at least there appears to be jobs in the field ... 

I am also obsessed with the section where they say a generator broke in his office and all his fish died in their tank ... almost a year's worth of research down the toilet. There is this amazing mini-doc I watched in my health psychology class in undergrad about a researcher who studied baboon's stress hormones. Dr. Sapolsky is everything I want to be ... and a similar thing happened to him where a pack of tourists left old meat out and all his specimens ate it and died. He said he almost died himself when he found out. Anyways, this is a huge tangent but I honestly tell everyone I know this story and you can watch some of it here

That's all I feel like mentioning now. I am really enjoying the book and hope everyone else is too! 

5 comments:

  1. Wow, I’m really enjoying this book. I was nervous about it for a few reasons. First of all I was scared that I had picked a long boring book that everyone would dread reading like MD. Second of all, it’s a big book, so I just felt exhausted looking at it having flashbacks to the brick of MD sitting on my nightstand.

    However, I am really enjoying it so far! I’m a huge fan of fiction that ties in family drama, struggle, and any other gritty themes like that. I recently read ‘Everything I never told you’ by Celest Ng, and it was amazing (if you’re into this kind of fiction like me). One of my favorite books is “A tree grows in Brooklyn”, and this seemed to be a similar feel so I thought I would enjoy it. The risk with this kind of book though, is that it’s predictable and boring – which happens often. So far there have been lots of unexpected things here and I’m feeling really intrigued to see where this goes.

    What’s surprised me most is Eileen’s mother. When authors write this kind of plot line, we usually get a drunken father, and a mother trying to keep things together. This is different… here we have something surprising – a mother who is so disconnected and self destructive, a father who is sort of the same but not as bad, and then Eileen trying to hold things together. This should make a juicy story – how will the character of Eileen evolve! Well, we already see in the first year of her marriage that some of her mother’s narcissistic tendencies have repeated themselves in Eileen. Often children will either take forward these characteristics in small or large ways, or they are super conscious of it and work hard to go the opposite way. I’m not sure yet what kind of woman Eileen is growing up to be, but I see a storm brewing, and I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.

    As for the epitaphs, I did not understand them when I read them, and I don’t see the need to go back and read them again and feel dumb again. So no dice for me on that either.

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    1. I love how Meg and I had the same response to the line about how Eileen could go for years off that tiny bit of affection from her dad... which was oh god be careful.

      I do agree with you Becca how the mother is an odd character for the context. She seems to be like defying her role as a parent somehow but I also think that miscarriages have to be one of the saddest things in the world. I also feel from other books I've read that women usually feel so overshadowed by men in these huge roles like Big Mike and I love her attempting to sort of break out of this and rebel (the whole citizenship sponsorship thing to be specific).

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    2. Yeah as I was reading I immediately was very anti-Eileen's father but it is interesting that the movie ends up the alcoholic. Although I'm sure a case could be made for her father also being an alcoholic. I had so much sympathy for Eileen as she was listening to her neighbour play his instrument .. it made me so sad. But as we get ready to publish the second set of chapters I am losing patience with Eileen. It's funny because I don't really remember her parents being that racist? Her dad says really racist things but also seemed to be a respectable guy in that he was the only one who would drive with the black driver... Eileen doesn't seem to learn from this at all though

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    3. I'm getting impatient with Eileen too... Ed and Connell are awesome, she's gotta get on board.

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