Before I start with “Hello there!” and the regular clichés, I have to ask: do you ignore me on purpose? Seriously, is it some sort of a tactic – technique – trigonometry that is designed to make me understand something and I just do not get it? Just now, as I was about to type the “Hello there!” the gruesome thought crept into my mind.
It’s just that, after all these emails, I couldn’t help but wonder (as someone once said): am I missing the “Stop! Harassment!” sign, hanging over you desktop?
I hope you are expecting me to tell you how I am and how I’m feeling, or alternatively, what I’ve being reading lately.
Well, that is a logical expectation, when sending an email to one’s personal librarian who is in charge of one’s “reading list”. Only the Queen and I enjoy such a privilege and she is much honored to share that status with me (so I’ve heard).
On the other hand, I won’t deny that the opening paragraph (which wasn’t rhetorical) has made me question myself.
And yet, I still write to you, so it seems that my apprehension should be disregarded when we come to deal with the gravity of the truly important issues - i.e. me (you are irritatingly non responsive).
I read The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz.
Indeed. A delightful experience.
I won’t be talking about the thriller genre as written by women. I’ll save that to Blackout by a different Lisa.
You know it raises a whole big question: the common knowledge is that I don’t glance at the back cover. I even skip the introduction (sometimes). I read the story and then I tell myself – while reading – that I’m going to write to Tsofit about this and that and I should point out other things to her and – wow, that was really important, or alternatively, really bad. And then I finish the book and I read the back cover and the introduction and at that point my whole attitude completely changes. First of all, I’m not involved anymore. Now I’m someone who is outside the story and is not emotionally attached to whatever is going on in it.
Secondly, now that I know how everything works out and unravels, I get the overall picture (well, I hope I do), and that sheds new light on the whole story. It basically means that curiosity has turned into impression. I’m free from the need to bite my nails as to the destiny of the characters and can chat about them as much as I like.
In light of this, whatever it was that I initially had wanted to tell you, is very different from what I want to say now, after the happy ending (I’ve finished – I’m happy). I honestly don’t know which of these two aspects is more important. I mean, think about it: does the ending supercede the beginning because it wraps everything up? Is everything judged by the way it finishes?
Indeed – a dilemma.
Isabel Spellman writes like an American scriptwriter for American television (or movies). Her writing is funny, like a comedy that is written according to all the necessary rules.
After finishing the book, I read what Lisa Lutz, the author, had written in the acknowledgment section, and I understood that Isabel Spellman and Lisa Lutz are one and the same. That again changes the entire picture.
In the book, Isabel Spellman feels that she has to be the crazy, outrageous, wild member of the family because her perfect older brother David has already taken the position of the favorite child.
Honestly? I couldn’t decide if there was any logic or reasoning to it: does Isabel Spellman want to defy her ideal brother? Does she enjoy being the one who throws her life away with drink and wild conduct? Doesn’t she have anything better to do?
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading about her, because it made the whole story light and funny and enjoyable. But when I read the acknowledgment note at the end of the book, I realized it wasn’t as light and funny as it sounds.
Isabel Spellman’s life is Lisa’s life: endless randomness, lack of stability in finding a place of her own, the disorder and disorganization, the inner wandering, the actual wandering. It’s not funny – it’s tragic. In real life it can break your heart, to look at a guy and right away know that he will be your next ex, before you even got started. In Spellman Files this is common behavior.
Let me clarify: I enjoyed the story when I thought that it presented a scenario that one shouldn’t take too seriously. It’s like this Carrie Bradshaw person, who is hopping around the streets of New York on heels the height of the Eiffel Tower, in dresses which cost the equivalent of an annual salary of a top executive, skipping from one date to the next and blinking a photogenic blink when it doesn’t work out. But when the real Carrie Bradshaw, the one who wrote these stories out of bitterness of a broken heart, limping away after yet another disappointing date, in a dress worn half a dozen times because who can afford one dress the price of a top executive’s annual salary – we don’t laugh any more. It’s no laughing matter. It’s a sign of deep distress.
I can choose not to think about the true Carrie Bradshaw and allow myself to be swept away by the illusion of the facade, but I’m not fifteen years old. And maybe I can get by with Carrie Bradshaw, but apparently not with Isabel Spellman /Lisa Lutz.
Isabel is someone who struggles with the fact she isn’t perfect.
On the one hand – great: a free ticket to do all the things perfect people would never be caught dead doing.
On the other hand – bummer: turns out that it isn’t all that great to pass out on the front lawn, to tattoo yourself with a tattoo which is an everlasting reminder of a revolting episode you would much rather forget and to live in complete and total chaos because you can’t clean up after yourself.
Truth is, this is the story of our lives. We all desperately want to be perfect and then, when it turns out that we aren’t, some quit the game altogether and flip, like Isabel’s uncle, Ray (I’m just getting it now. So happy we are having this conversation!).
Uncle Ray was the embodiment of health, self-preservation and good taste: he didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and exercised religiously. And then he got sick, almost died, dared to recover, upset his wife who had left him and decided that he would live life by gambling, pizza and beer.
David, Isabel’s brother, was born perfect. When Isabel describes him, it sounds almost like a curse. It is possible that her resentment is merely a disguise for deep frustration of him being someone she could never be, like one of the ugly sisters of beautiful Cinderella.
But it turns out towards the end of the story that David suffers a great deal from his own perfection (clever me! I realized it at the beginning, when he continually covers up for Isabel).
David goes off to University where he discovers that there are places in which excellence, beauty and exceptional success are considered a virtue, but it is only when the affair between him and Isabel’s best friend, Patra, bursts into the open, that he answers Isabel’s question (why Patra?) by confessing: because she doesn’t think I’m perfect.
That is the pivotal moment when it comes abundantly clear that being perfect actually bothers him.
(I personally think that the most upsetting thing in the entire story is the fact that Isabel doesn’t mind that her best friend had dated her brother and had not told her about it. This would never happen in real life. I couldn’t consider it seriously before I knew that Lisa was Isabel – excuse me for not automatically assuming that every author who writes in the first person in his debut novel is basically writing about himself).
I think that Isabel is a realistic character who screams out what everyone else is trying so secretly to hide: that being mediocre is fine, but upsetting at the same time.
No, seriously: we always divide the world into black or white. We know better, but we do it anyway. You know we do. And here all of a sudden comes this book and says – the world is black and white. Isabel is black most of time. She doesn’t like it but at least she is real, and therefore she can see that – sometimes – black is actually white.
This is something I had never considered before. I never thought that being mediocre would be enough, because being mediocre actually means “not as good as” (Night Train to Lisbon – remember?).
Eventually, Isabel accepts her imperfections.
David marries Patra.
Uncle Ray decides he wants to commit suicide and dies in yet another “lost weekend”.
And Lisa Lutz?
I’m guessing that by now she has an apartment with a regular income. And a crazy job as a book writer who still doesn’t allow anyone to call her an authoress (and kudos to her for that). Possibly she even has a Hollywood contract (correct! Paramount Pictures has optioned the film rights with Laura Ziskin producing and Barry Sonnenfeld directing. She also wrote the script for Plan B. I’m only semi – shocked). After reading about her, through the ineffective disguise of her book, one can’t help but be inquisitive as to her life.
To sum it up – it was a really good read.
Plus – I thought about the imperfection thing, which is always fun – don’t you agree?
I’ll get back to you on that, if I have anything more to say.
I don’t think I will – it’s just my way of saying that I’ll be here, as always, waiting…
Yes, Tzofit – waiting for you to write!
Have a great day – a really perfect one.