James has been accepted by Brown University, but isn’t sure that he wants to go to college. He’d rather read to educate himself maybe in a nice house in the Midwest than spend time with his peers. For now, he works in a boring job at his mother’s art gallery in Manhattan and deals with his fractured family.
I have to say nothing much happens in this book. It’s all about self-discovery and coming of age. Even James’s attraction to his mother’s assistant John is restrained and ambivalent. But I think that the lack of huge external conflicts makes it feel more real and raw. The only flaw is that the book doesn’t leave you much to grasp onto when it’s over. It’s a little forgettable in a way. There are some really well-written passages that explain James’ feeling of isolation and loss. Here are three of them.
“No,” I said. “You’re right. It’s true.”The book isn’t all misery and angst. There’s humor, too. Overall, an interesting and entertaining book that will leave you wanting more even if you can’t exactly remember why.
“What’s true?” my mother asked.
“I am disturbed,” I said. I thought about what the word meant, what it really means to be disturbed, like how a pond is disturbed when you throw a rock into it or how you disturb the peace. Or how you can be disturbed by a book or movie or the burning rain forest or the melting ice caps. Or the war in Iraq. It was one of those moments when you feel you have never heard the word before, and you cannot believe it means what it means, and you think how did this word come to mean that? It seemed like a bell or something, shining and pure, disturbed, disturbed, disturbed, I could hear it pealing with its true meaning, and I said, as if I had just realized it, “I am disturbed.”
...even if you had to sit at a table with someone, they didn’t expect you to say anything besides good morning, and that I could handle. I wish the whole day were like breakfast, when people are still connected to their dreams, focused inward, and not yet ready to engage with the world around them. I realized this is how I am all day; for me, unlike other people, there doesn’t come a moment after a cup of coffee or a shower or whatever when I suddenly feel alive and awake and connected to the world. If it were always breakfast, I would be fine.
[After telling his psychiatrist about a woman who had died on 9/11 and that no one knew she was dead for a while.]
I knew she knew why I was thinking about that woman I was thinking about my own tendencies toward aloneness and I thought I could end up like that woman... but alone with a life that didn’t touch or overlap with anyone else’s, a sort of hermetically sealed life. I knew Dr. Adler knew I thought this and just wanted me to say it to express myself, because she thought that by articulating those thoughts I might transcend or purge myself of them but what she didn’t know was that the story of the woman who disappeared like that didn’t make me sad, I didn’t think it was tragic that she left the world without effect. I thought it was beautiful. To die like that, to disappear without a trace, to sink without disturbing the surface of the water, not even a telltale bubble rising to the surface, like sneaking out of a party so no one notices you’re gone.