I recently went to see Atonement. It was beautiful, and well acted, and it set this impossible tone throughout. It was unrelenting; the music, the images, the impending sense of doom, the utter misery, even early on when you are kept waiting for half the movie for the tragedy you just know is coming.

leftovers, by Laura Wiess, is like that. When I decided after retrieving the book from across the room after page 20 to keep reading I was prepared for what to expect, but still.

At first the structure was off putting, and it took me a while to get into the flow. Much of the story is told in second person – using you when referring to themselves. At first it makes it hard to discern what is referencing Blair and Ardith, and what is just an illustration of their points. Also there are interruptions while they answer questions from their audience (Officer Dave), but his questions must be inferred from their answers as they are not written down. Eventually I settled into the narrative, but the second person narration does have a distancing effect.

The lessons that Blair and Ardith learn, what they see as entering the adult world, are overwhelmingly depressing and the whole tone of the book is oppressive. There is no light. It is unrelenting. But like Atonement, I could see the beauty in it. I think this a better written piece than such a pretty girl.

You told us once not to be in such a hurry to grow up, but I don’t see any way we could have avoided it.There was always someone out there ready to carve away another chunk of our innocence.

Really this is what the book explores, the loss and the confusion and grief of losing your innocence. Dellasandra is the perfect foil for Ardith and Blair’s carefully not so carefully cultivated (by others) despair and cynicism. Della is all self absorbed, pampered sweetness, and yet in some ways a mini-adult who has bought into the sense of what you see is true, and not seeing the beneaths. I have a hard time in the end viewing her as their victim, perhaps because I cannot get past Blair and Ardith’s victimhood. And yes they justify their actions by claiming to take back their power but as Officer Dave asks at the very end – have they?

I would like to see Dawn A. Emerman at Avenging Sybil take this book on because I think she can do a better job than I with the double standard Ardith, in particular, encounters and struggles with. Blair seems so much more willing to use her femaleness as a weapon, Ardith never is comfortable with it, more willing to join her mother’s notion of “sisterhood” but perhaps this is the model she is provided….. This may be the issue I return to, if I can bear this book again.

Look – it isn’t an easy book to read on an emotional level, but I have a feeling this will stay with me for a long, long time.


2 Responses

  1. Okay, it took me a long time to find this blog and I’d comment on the post you wrote about my book, but it was really far back there. So, first, thank you for reading Swollen. Second, what a great reading of my book. Thank you. I miss Swollen lately, especially as I reach the end of my first draft of my new novel (did I just say that publicly?).

    Your blog is keeping the fire lit.

    On to write more. Or maybe just keep googling my name…

    Thanks so much,

  2. Yea!! I am an author geek so I love that you commented. I loved Swollen, still think about it. Enjoyed Upstream too, also a moody, sad book. It just didn’t get into me like Swollen.

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