Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: COURTING DISASTER by Julie Edelson

I came across this forgotten book while seeking out seasonal reads for Thanksgiving week.  Published back in 1999, it was quickly forgotten and is now sadly out of print.  I bought it used, in part, off this synopsis:

"By taking Tolstoy's famous dictum that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and bending it to the service of the black-comic, Southern neo-gothic novel, Julie Edelson creates an extended, inspired riff on the lure of chaos, and the necessity of order.  ...All of it comes crashing down in the course of one frenzied, turbulent, but hilarious Thanksgiving week."
The only crime in the novel is the growing and distribution of marijuana, and it is indeed a comedy about a dysfunctional family.  Thanksgiving novels typically involve such a family in an always familiar crisis where children rebelling against their elders mix teenager angst into the already befuddled mid-life crisis of their parents while in the awkward presence of growing grandparent fragility and senility.
A traditional family circus which puts the traditional dread into "the dreaded feast."
Edelson here throws gender and ethnic issues into the mix, and the result is often very funny.  I read several other fine Thanksgiving novels in November including May We Be Forgiven? by A. M. Holmes (which runs Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving) but of them all, Edelson provided the most extraordinary use of language.  
The author's use of metaphor and general wordplay (such as the unacknowledged use of familiar song lyrics), is constantly fresh and apt and surprising.  Such as the description of a young television reporter, "glazed like a doughnut with ambition" and the description of the husband's reluctance to touch his estranged wife: "Does she want something from him?  A touch?  Where?  How? Her body is a haunted house."
And there is genuine humor here in the novel's play with political correctness, of stereotype versus reverse-stereotype, of the peeling back of illusions to get to the next illusion so that you can peel that back too.  The idea of living in the moment is good, but these characters delude themselves into thinking that they are free--when all the time they are chained to their addictions.  To coveting things, to smoke, to drink, to drugs, to sexual conquests--always in the effort to escape the moment in which they perceive themselves living.
Identity is history and the reflection on that history, which gives us a sense of direction.  Free will is rare but we can find it in the act of choice, a conscious changing of course toward the building of a new better history based upon love and responsibility.

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