Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our Tragic Universe

Continuing my fascination with author Scarlett Thomas, I downloaded her latest sci-fi and chick lit blend, Our Tragic Universe.

This time our protagonist is Meg, an author of paperback novels and book reviews, who lives with an awful boyfriend and a dog named Bess (affectionately known as "B"). I've noticed that Thomas often has a claustrophobic quality in the setting of her novels. In PopCo, the protagonist is at a retreat with her coworkers she can't get away from. In The End of Mr. Y, it's a world inside your head that you have to make your way out of. In Our Tragic Universe, it's a foggy little seaside town, the relationship Meg seems to be stuck in, and a set of financial circumstances that prevent her ever getting around to doing what she really wants, which is to write her "real" novel (and find true love, of course).

Early on, Thomas sets up one of the central ideas of the novel in a (fictitious) book Meg reviews, The Science of Living Forever:

According to Kelsey Newman, the universe, which always was a computer, will, for one moment-- not even that -- be so dense and have so much energy that it will be able to compute anything at all. So why not simply program it to simulate another universe, a new one that will never end, and in which everyone can live happily ever after? This moment will be called the Omega Point, and, because it has the power to contain everything, will be indistinguishable from God.
The consequences of the Omega Point being that every human will be resurrected and never die again. But Newman gives an out of the Second World (the current universe we're living in) with the Road to Perfection, a sort of blueprint to get to heaven, attained only by "becoming truly yourself, and overcoming all your personal obstacles."

Hmm, it's all very New Age-y (and sketchy). Funny enough, it's based on a real theory by physicist Frank Tipler. The theory seems meant more as a jumping off point than anything else. No, Meg doesn't really buy into it. But how does she explain the seemingly supernatural occurrences in her life, which, it seems, are many?

Thomas also uses the "Omega Point" theory for winding discussion of story that continues throughout the book -- the "storyless story" versus the simplistic formula story of a paperback sci-fi novel, and the "storylines" that occur in real life.

And in this novel. Several times I wondered if this novel was a storyless story. It's not, but it is close to that. It has a dense, winding, talky, inconclusive way about it. It is frustrating for a reader not to get that emotional payoff at the end but I respect Thomas is trying to do something different from a conventional novel and not just forgetting to give it a true conclusion. There's less "happily ever after" here than in her other novels, which brings it closer to real life. Good if you like realism, bad if you're looking for an escape.

I liked Our Tragic Universe as a book of ideas. In that respect it matches the smartness of her other novels. Really an interesting discussion of the supernatural and fate and the idea of the story. And Thomas can't go wrong with writing a likable female lead who I wish was my best friend. But even for a close to storyless story I wished there was more of a sense of it being finished. Call me unsophisticated, but I wanted something *amazing* at the end, and I was left disappointed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Oprah phenomenon

Caitlin Flanagan has the best explanation of the Oprah phenomenon that I've read:
Oprah, more than any other broadcaster ever, understands the ways men can hurt women, and it is this knowledge—hard-earned and openly shared with her audience—that has allowed her to forge such a powerful bond with her fans. That she can move so easily between episodes about, on the one hand, rape and domestic violence and, on the other, shopping and decorating, demonstrates not a lack of focus but the fact that she understands the full equation of the female experience, in ways that few others before her have.
Really a great article that weaves together the full range of Oprah.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bleak week

Last week was one of the worst in recent memory. I was facing a development that rocked the work boat to the extreme. Meanwhile most of my friends were facing different (and far worse) crises of their own, making me both sad for them and hesitant to burden them with my comparatively lightweight problems.

I feel so tired of the daily routine. And I've really been doubting myself, more than usual. I'm not half as important as I used to think I was. I have stopped thinking I'm smart. I've never thought I was pretty. I don't know how to write anymore. I am lonely and don't think I'm a good friend to anybody.

I don't really like November. Cold and cloudy, short days, winter jackets. The cold months get me down, this year is no exception.

I'm definitely entering a new chapter of my life, work-wise. Things are not going to be the same, and it's not really by choice but I have to deal. Not only at work but otherwise, too. I started up my 30 things blog with the idea that I'd try some new things, and I have. I've done more than I've written about, actually. I've read through Walden again and got myself a Twitter account, I've run a 5K and listened to some fantastic new (old) music. Joni Mitchell, where have you been all my life? It has been invigorating (until this week anyway, when everything came to a screeching halt) but it's also been a thoughtful time, where I haven't even cared if I've shut myself in the house for a whole day reading or listening to an album a couple of times. Sometimes I feel like the "solitary me" and the "work me" wouldn't get along if they met each other. I am two different people, I wonder if this is a bad thing?

I guess being sad sometimes is a natural part of life. I've dealt with it horribly, though, and I haven't been accepting of it as a process. I've blamed myself and berated myself. I haven't been honest about my emotions. Maybe the best thing to do is just be vulnerable and experience it then get over it, not fight it or try to cover it up with things like food or shopping or working too much. Then I will feel OK again.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love this from A Nun's Life - Madonna wanted to be a nun at one point: "By time I was in the fifth grade, I knew I wanted to be either a nun or a movie star."

Saturday, November 05, 2011

What's it like to run in a 5K? Read about it here.
Quote from the late Andy Rooney: "A writer's job is to tell the truth."