Family Conflict

Here is a little stretch of seredipity that occured over the weekend -- in fact, the conversation began on our way to lunch where we wrote our Christmas lists and ended on the way home. Driving home, we saw a sign for the library's monthly book sale. So we stopped in and found a discarded winning lottery ticket for a thousand dollars. Here's what happened:

On the cardrive to lunch, Traci and I were arguing about a book we'd both read recently: Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants.

She said, "I like it."

I said, "Me, too, but not as much."

It was intense, you could have cut the air with a turkey knife. Well, the electric kind, anyway -- the old fashioned ones would have just gummed the mess up. But we didn't have a turkey knife, so we had to just continue the argument with words.

I said, "Why do you like it?"

She said, "Because the writing is good and it is fun to read."

She had me. Dead to rights. The writing is solid, a pleasure to read. The story is engaging, and the narrator has a good eye for detail.

So I said, "So?" Hah, I thought, beat that!

She said, "Also, I thought it was fun to read about the circus."

"But the book isn't about the circus," I said.

She said, "It's entirely about the circus. Look at the cover," so I did (we had our copy in the car), and, in fact, there is a man wearing sequins, carrying a silver-tipped cane, and walking into a striped tent. "Plus," she said, "all the elephant stuff."

True, I told her, there is the elephant act and the horse act and the guy with the silver-tipped cane, but the book is a love story. It's about Jacob and Marlena. It's about the tribulations of marrying someone you don't know and then falling in love with someone you're not married to. But it is not about the circus. "Richard Schmitt's The Aerialist," I said, "now that book's about the circus." In the midst of a description of a show, he writes:

"The act defies the laws of human ability. It is puzzling how they can do these things. A skipping rope segment seemss frivolous and playful, mocks the ten meters between playground and ground, then he trips, falls flat onto the wire. it is a moment that stops band and breath. he catches the wire with both hands. Swings under. The rope falls and the shocking thing, even if you suspect the trip was contrived, the thing that makes you jump in your seat, is the thud the rope makes hitting the ground. You're pretty sure he did not mean to drop that rope, and you feel it hit from across the ring, and feel the hairs rise on the back of your neck. If a rope hits with such force . . ." (The Aerialist 212)

We did not have a copy of that book with us, she just had to take my word for it. "Water for Elephants doesn't even mention the tightrope until the final thirty pages of the book."

"Still," she said, "it's a very good love story with lots of suspense."

"Yes, very suspenseful, but the suspense is all based on a lie." This isn't any kind of spoiler, because it's the opening scene:

"My eyes swept the tent, desperate to find Marlena. . . . I opened my eyes again and scanned the menagerie, frantic to find her. How hard can it be to find a girl and an elephant, for Christ's sake? // When I caught sight of her pink sequins, I nearly cried out in relief--maybe I did. I don't remember. . . . // She reached for something. A giraffe passed between us--its long neck bobbing gracefully even in panic--and when it was gone I saw that she'd picked up an iron stake. She held it loosely, resting its end on the hard dirt. She looked at me again, bemused. Then her gaze shifted to the back of his bare head. . . . // She lifted the stake high in the air and brought it down, splitting his head like a watermelon." (Water for Elephants 3-4)

(My version is abridged, but you can read the prologue at Amazon: here.

If you haven't read it, this might be a spoiler: despite the fact that the prologue has Marlena killing somebody, despite the fact that I spent the next three hundred pages trying to figure how Marlena was going to turn into a killer, Marlena doesn't kill anybody. The book begins en media res -- it begins with the climactic scene of the book and takes us back and ahead in time very skillfully and pleasurably. It really is a great read, but, when we get back to the climactic scene, it is not Marlena who kills the guy. "The narrator begins the book with a lie," I tell Traci, "and I cannot forgive him for that. I cannot accept the fact that this narrator changes his story just to build suspense. I will never be okay with this."

Traci said, "I'm alright with it." Yes, she had a good point.

I said, "I guess I am, too. It's a good book. I like it. I just wish we had a copy of The Aerialist."

We left it at that and we ate our very delicious lunch, while writing our Christmas lists, and -- and I have to stress this -- we did not get kicked out of the restaurant, so, ha!, Sam's wish comes true early. On the way home, we saw the sign for the monthly library book sale and decided to stop in. Blaisey alone bought 18 books: as she piled them in front of me, I said, "You want all those books?"

She said, "They will help me learn to read. You do want me to learn to read, don't you?"

Naomi found a dozen and said, "Guess we'll have to build a bookshelf. I've never read twelve new books all at once."

I said, "Why don't you just donate them back to the library when you're done?"

She said, "What am I gonna do until next weekend?"
We're getting the lumber today.

Traci and I got another handful, mostly novels, including the metaphorical lottery ticket for a thousand bucks: we found a beautiful copy of Richard Schmitt's The Aerialist! Serendipity smiled on us again.

And we're all living happily ever after.

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