Books and Authors

What Is Love? What Is Happiness?

SPOILER ALERT!

What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me…) What is happiness? What is the point of marriage? These are a few of the questions that Douglas Kennedy’s novel Five Days attempts to answer.

This was a random pick off the general fiction shelves at the library. I knew nothing about the author, although I did a tiny bit of research, and found out he is an atheist, which explains much of the book’s philosophy. He is also a pretty good author and has written quite a few novels, as evidenced by positive reviews on Amazon and similar sites.

In Five Days, Laura, our main character, is a radiologist trapped in a dead-end marriage. Her two children are nearly grown and out of the house. She’s starting to let the more morbid aspects of her job affect her. Her husband has recently lost his job and is depressed because of that, making the lives of everyone around him miserable. So she is happy for the chance to go to a work-related conference in Boston. At said conference, she runs into a man named Richard, who she realizes is in fact the love of her life, and her entire life up until this point has been a series of wasted opportunities due to her own lack of self-esteem. She has always sold herself short.

The plot seems mundane, I know, but it immediately grabbed me because I like “real-life” style books. It took place over the course of, obviously, five days, but through flashbacks and long stories told by Laura and Richard, it delved deeply into the characters’ pasts and explained why they made the choices they made and how they became the people they are.

This book really made me think about whether Laura was justified in cheating on her husband. I could not justify it in my head, at least, from my own perspective. From the author’s perspective, yes, anything is justified if it fits within the character’s moral code and if it will bring about happiness. But is happiness the supreme goal of life? I’ve always thought that one of the purposes of life is to help others and attempt to make their lives easier or better, which does not always equate to happiness, as making others’ lives easier or better can hinder your own happiness. “Happiness” is ephemeral and doesn’t last. “Happiness” can also become a selfish concept, if the main goal is to make and keep yourself “happy” at the expense of others.

Is love the supreme goal of life? From my perspective, yes, but only the love of God. The love of humans attempts to come close but will fail every time. From the author’s perspective, yes, but only a love that validates, not “tough love” that can challenge.

Do people “deserve” to be happy? This was another concept that I struggled with throughout the book. Laura never felt as though she deserved happiness because of guilt and poor choices from her past, so I suppose she felt justified in her affair with Richard. I have the opportunity for happiness, and I deserve it, so let’s go for it, even if it means tearing apart my marriage and family!

What I’ve learned over my relatively few years of life is that, ultimately, only you are responsible for your own happiness. If you rely on others to make you happy, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of sadness. In a way, this clashes with my other philosophy about helping others; to some degree, you’re making yourself responsible for others’ happiness. However, I don’t believe that one should help others for that reason. It should be done for God, to attempt to see others in the way that he would see them.

Was it Laura’s fault that she never came to terms with her past until everything reached a boiling point (i.e., she met Richard)? Yes, unfortunately. She never quite managed to find happiness or contentment where she was, so she suffered in relative silence for years. This is never good, and it’s something else I’ve learned in my life, although it’s been hard to put it into practice: Talk to someone. Do not let things fester, because even if you don’t believe you will, you will absolutely reach your breaking point and you will crack. And destruction of some sort will happen. In Laura’s case, it was the destruction of her marriage. I felt so sorry for her poor husband, who had been laid off from his job, then had to deal with his wife’s behavior as well, all in the name of what she believed she was owed because she kept her past and its tragic events bottled inside.

As for the marriage aspects of the book, it seemed like the author didn’t hold marriage in very high regard. If you’re unhappy, and you feel as though you have a good enough reason, why not leave? Why not cheat? People enter marriage for a variety of reasons, and they are definitely not the same after 10 years of marriage as they are after 2 years of marriage. People sometimes grow apart, things happen, unforeseen events wreak havoc on what would have been a long-lasting marriage. That is the natural order of things.

But giving up on marriage, in my opinion, should only be done when every single other option has been exhausted or if the situation is abusive or dangerous (to the other spouse and/or the kids). Laura’s husband might not have been her perfect intellectual match (that was an annoying thing about the book: the characters were supposed to be so intellectual), but he was a decent man who did his best to provide for his family. His only error was marrying Laura while knowing that he would never measure up to the man she had loved before him. Her error was lingering in the past and keeping so many secrets of said past from her husband. I think they could have worked on the marriage, rather than Laura leaving after not even bothering to talk things through.

From the author’s atheistic perspective, there’s not much point to marriage except that it’s another tool to make those inside of it happy. If it fails to do that, it can be dissolved without any real guilt or negative emotions, just a cold, chilly law proceeding and signatures on paper. Now my new life can begin! I can be who I was meant to be! I can be happy and get what I deserve! Ugh. So by the time I finished the book, I was depressed. Leaving her husband won’t make Laura happy, as long as she lives with her memories of the past and her regrets about not starting a new relationship with Richard. Situations and people with whom she surrounds herself may change, but she is essentially still the same person, and she should work on fixing herself and coming to terms with her past. It’s no longer taboo to go to a therapist. It’s a great option. (Laura does do this in the book, but the therapist only validates her and doesn’t challenge her much.)

Sorry for the long post, but that book was definitely one of the more thought-provoking ones I’ve read so far this year. I could have written a lot more, but I’ll either save your eyes or write a new post. 🙂

Blogging

Thursday Three #48

Recent reads edition! SPOILER ALERT! I was in a rush, so I grabbed three random books out of the library, only glancing at the covers and blurbs for a quick second. Interestingly, all were part of a series (not the same series), but I didn’t know that when I picked them up.

  1. The Last Good Girl – Allison Leotta. Part of the Anna Curtis series, which centers on a lawyer working for the U.S. government. The book had an interesting premise: the dangers of the date-rape drug commonly used by unscrupulous people at college. Moral of the story: Men are evil. College boys, especially those associated with fraternities, are sex crazed and irredeemably evil, except when it serves the book’s plot for them to turn over a new leaf. All women are good, especially when they fight against injustices perpetuated by evil men.
  2. The Three – Sarah Lotz. There’s a sequel called Day Four. Both are horror novels describing an end-of-the-world scenario. Moral of the story: Fundamentalist Christians are evil. But then again, the entire human race, including gay people, little kids, the Japanese, and South Africans, is evil, and we deserve whatever apocalyptic terror we get. This book is much more like Stephen King’s novels than Bird Box because of its length and complexity, but the depth of characterization is just not there. At the point when I was getting to know and like the characters, the book was ending and/or said characters were dying or dead. This was a bleak one.
  3. A Sin Such as This – Ellen Hopkins.* This is the sequel to Love Lies Beneath, which most likely contains more of the main character’s morally disgusting sexual escapades (although she tries to justify it to herself) and unbridled arrogance. Moral of the story: Men are evil. Except when they can provide women with mind-numbingly good sex. Women’s moral failings can be attributed entirely to their parents and their upbringing; thus, women are blameless, even when they do the same morally reprehensible things as men. Because, wouldn’t you know, women are entitled to cheat on their husbands when they have been treated poorly!

Oh, the depth of misanthropy in these three books… will I read the others in the series? Maybe. All three books were entertaining and went pretty quickly, but I wasn’t particularly blown away by any of them.

*I’ve read a couple of Ellen Hopkins’ YA novels-in-verse, which are much more well known and greatly loved among teen audiences. She should stick to that genre. A Sin Such as This had a couple poems in it, and they just didn’t work for the book. It was like sprinkling powdered sugar over moldy cookies.

Books and Authors

A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the… Box?

SPOILER WARNING!

Bird Box is a popular thriller movie on Netflix starring Sandra Bullock. My first instinct when hearing about a popular movie is to wonder if it was based on a book, then if it was, read the book. I won’t watch the movie unless it’s something I really think I’d like.

Yes, Bird Box was indeed based on a book by Josh Malerman. I wrote briefly about another book of his in one of my Thursday Three posts, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to read Bird Box: I liked that other book quite a bit.

In brief, the book takes its readers through a horrifying end-of-the-world scenario about a mysterious creature that, when seen by humans, makes said humans go insane and commit suicide. Sounds happy and sunshiny, right? Of course not. But as you can imagine, Bird Box was a difficult read for such a short, fast-paced book. I almost put it down because the creepiness of the situation made me so uncomfortable… and the only reason I ever put a book down is because it is hopelessly boring and I can’t force myself through it.

However, I pressed on with Bird Box, mostly to find out exactly what the creatures were that were causing all the madness. Alas, I found nothing. We never do find out. This is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, where the creature is awful beyond comprehension—so awful that the author can’t even describe it. That technique always seemed like a cop-out to me. You’re the author, right? You’re supposed to describe the thing and allow the reader to see it!

The characters didn’t impress me. The heroine, Malorie, was brave beyond anything that could have been considered realistic. She raised two babies from their birth until age 4 without them ever opening their eyes (lest they see the awful, terrible, very bad creatures), without having any contact with any other human beings, and surviving on only the most minimal provisions. It was outrageously unrealistic, almost to the point of being offensive, as was the giving birth scene. The postpartum depression must have been almost as bad as being attacked by one of the creatures. (Hmm… maybe the entire book was an allegory about the terrors of pregnancy and the postpartum period? That would be an interesting analysis…)

Also, because Bird Box is a horror story, online reviewers made the inevitable comparison to Stephen King. I don’t see how anyone who has read anything by Stephen King can make that comparison. Perhaps the only way the two books were similar is that terrible things kept happening. I would say that Bird Box is more of a thriller, and most of Stephen King’s books are way too long and slow burning to be thrillers. King is also much, much better at character development and keeping plots realistic (but still horrifying).

I can’t recommend this book, unless you’re a huge fan of the horror or thriller genres. It just didn’t work for me. Even so, I will try another book by Malerman, because the other book I read from him was just that good.