Saturday, 2 January 2016

Everything I Never Told You | An Almost-Review

In kindergarten, he had learned how to make a bruise stop hurting: you pressed it over and over with your thumb. The first time it hurt so much your eyes watered. The second time it hurt a little less. 
The tenth time, it was barely an ache. So he read the note again and again.
It didn't stop hurting. His eyes didn't stop watering. 

This is probably not for anybody who cares for spoilers for Celeste Ng's "Everything I Never Told You" because I have no idea how to de-spoil my stream of consciousness so bear with me!

I just finished this book after reading a couple hundred pages non-stop for the past few hours and despite having started it absolutely forever ago and having it absolutely consume me with its progression, I dropped it for a little while and I suppose it's for the best that I didn't finish it in little chunks because it wouldn't have felt as overwhelming as it does now, all at once.

The book revolves around the Lee's - a family made up of a father of Chinese descent, James, an American mother, Marilyn and their three children, Nathan, Lydia and Hannah. Lydia Lee goes missing and after several days her body is found in the town lake. This basic plot summary eludes to a novel about death, pain and ultimately, healing and I suppose, in a sense, that is exactly what happens, but it is the first novel that I have encountered that reveals this healing process for what it truly is. An absolute mess. Especially amongst a family who struggled to communicate before any traumatic event. It highlighted just how much damage was being caused on a day to day basis without the need of a death to lead to the dysfunction. It's very common in cases of a child passing away that the parents end up separating and those cases are always seen as the death drove them apart, but what Celeste has so meticulously crafted here was the multifaceted nature of relationships and all the dimensions in which damage seeds were being planted long before the "event".

Of course, the death was what forced them to take a look at their lives and with that halt in everything, the breaking down of every safety barricade people put up, there are realizations and there is resurfacing of past turbulence that has always been just beneath the surface like a low, barely noticeable fire. And once again, bringing it wholly to reality we do not end up with every doubt consoled and every question answered and every missing puzzle piece found. In fact so many things are still lost in translation, so much is not spoken and this makes me think of two things. One, that communication does not always occur in the conventional verbal manner as sometimes words do not suffice and people's mannerisms slowly bend and mould as their feelings change and their thoughts process. And sometimes that is enough. But sometimes it isnt. And that is the second thing, the fact that so many of us do not know how to use our words just yet. We're often shackled to the probable consequences of these words slipping out of our throats that we don't quite realize the inevitable consequences of the words not spoken. And I think I find solace in the idea that if you speak your honest self to those who matter at times that matter then you have done your part. You have less to regret and you will not be caught in the consequences of doing nothing. And to me, that's reassuring.

This book discusses a greater issue of belonging that I noticed resonated with me a lot less than it would with other people. And I acknowledge the privilege of the absence of persistent worry about where you come from and your differences and whether you belong but I also acknowledge the fact that I have not always 'belonged' but it has not been to the extent that it has led to me feeling like an outsider. So assessing my situation, I came to the understanding that perhaps I can empathize but I cannot talk very much about this aspect of the book without having the necessary experienc-ial (it's a word, I'm trying to keep up with my brain) prerequisites. However, I will say this. As I was reading, there was a point in the book where Marilyn says this when discussing finding out who she thinks did that to her daughter:

"I would think you'd want to know, too. But listen to you. Of course officer. Thank you, officer. We can't ask for more, officer" ... "I know how to think for myself you know. Unlike some people, I don't just kowtow to the police"
In a blur of fury, Marilyn doesn't think twice about what she's said. To James, though, the word rifles from his wife's mouth and lodges deep in his chest. From those two syllables - kow-tow - explode bent-backed coolies in cone hats, pigtailed Chinamen with sandwiched palms. Squinty and servile. Bowing and belittled. He had long suspected that everyone sees him this way. But he had not thought that everyone included Marilyn.
This moment hit like the utmost betrayal because it is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that someone you thought saw you differently to the rest of the world could see you from the same lens. And has mindlessly, most times passively, taken those perspectives in and regurgitated them without even the intention to hurt, in some cases. An experience of the sort can lead to things neither James nor Marilyn could be aware of. Little things break down and other things change within people after conversations and after incidences that even they do not acknowledge and that is just another thing that I find extremely exhilarating yet petrifying about human interaction. 

Something that this book touched on that I am eternally grateful for is showing the acts of sacrifice made my children. This is a newly formed thought in my head that I'll attempt to walk the both of us through. It is very easy to notice, if you pay close attention, the rate at which children soak up everything around them. They can sense situations and empathize and understand what must be done in order to elicit or prevent a particular behavior or response. And I think that is something so disappointingly dismissed. Once their mother disappears, the children do not nag their father for the meals they used to have, Lydia understands why the cooking book was such a menace for her mother and hides it beneath all of the books of science her mom relentlessly gifted her, Nathan does not speak of the uncanny preference shown towards Lydia because it keeps everything going and Hannah, hugging her knees, watches everything from the sideline; understanding Jack, Nathan, Lydia, Marilyn and James, understanding everybody and paying attention to everybody while nobody spared her a couple of seconds. It is ridiculous how much people refuse to acknowledge that children could make sacrifices and could give up such immense luxuries of childhood in order to maintain normalcy and to keep those around them happy and sometimes that pressure accumulates to extents that even the child itself no longer understands what is making all of this the way it is.

Tears blur Marilyn's sight, It had not been science that Lydia had loved.

There is a moment in the book where this dawns on Marilyn, how Lydia was bearing with the science in order to show her mother how much she loved her, and how much she wanted to ensure she would always be around because she saw a direct correlation in the behavioral patterns of her mother that reinforced her adding up obsessively throughout breakfast and her brilliant grades that she shed complete light on without acknowledging that there was more to her daughter than that. The humiliation of pinning a failed test paper right opposite the kitchen table. The way Nath and his dreams were wholly dismissed. The way Hannah's entirety was wholly dismissed. It's a difficult dynamic to live within yet I feel this particular family is a symbol of children making far more sacrifices and being far far more selfless than any adult in that story was despite the fact that they too, were just as pained and confused and trying so desperately to heal. 

This book was about everything from the difficulty of belonging and the struggle to accept identity and difference to the unending and jagged process of mourning, accepting and healing and it was definitely a whole lot more than I ever expected. 

In bed, they touch each other gently, as if it's the first time they've ever been together. In the dark they are careful of each other, as if they know they are fragile, as if they know they can break

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