Thursday, September 26, 2013

Emerald City and Other Stories – Jennifer Egan

Egan, Jennifer. 2012. Emerald City and Other Stories. United Kingdom: Corsair.
Don't judge a book by its cover (reminding myself).

Why I read it in the first place?
Somehow, I never too fond of short story. I don’t have a valid reason why is that, and it bothered me a little (I’m annoyingly a reasonable person). And when I stumbled on this book at Periplus, I thought I’d give it a try. One, it’s on the bargain section, means I got this book much cheaper than it should.  Two, I like the cover, it’s really pretty. Three, I didn’t buy any romance book lately and I THOUGHT it is a lovey dovey romance book just like what I was looking for. Come on, from a cover like that you’ll judge like I did. But, I learn not to judge a book by its cover anymore. Such an old saying but I need to keep reminding myself that. Four, I saw this book gets high rating and great reviews in Goodreads. But from my rating, you know I kind of disagree with them. Five, its author, Jennifer Egan, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. I haven’t read that (now I don’t intend to) but she seems legit, people in Goodreads (again) repeatedly praised her for her works. So, why not, right? I have FIVE excellent reasons to buy it, I must not regret and beat myself too much (sigh).

My Rambling.
No, I’m not illiterate, and yes, I know Jennifer Egan writes beautifully, amazingly, outstandingly, elegantly, great great great and all. BUT, I must say, I felt numb while reading this anthology. Well, not exactly numb because I did feel confuse, hollow, uncomfortable, disappointed, depressed. My forehead was actually sore for too much frowning. Okay, she actually writes incredibly awesome, OKAY, GOT IT! But her stories? Me no likeeeeeeyyy.

So, this book is a compilation of eleven short stories by Jennifer Egan which had been published before in numerous publications in the period of 1989 until 1996. Generally, these eleven stories deal with moral issue of the character, self-discovery, regret, loneliness, longing. Shortly, it’s all about the problems we might suffer or witness in real life, though it’s still work of fiction. But, even with the reality problems like that, I just couldn’t relate with almost of the characters whom I think... how to put it... odd? I saw them odd based on their reaction and how they deal with their problems.

There are eleven short stories and it’s not fair if I give comments just in general. So, I’ll try to be more specific, still keep it spoiler-free though, relax. These eleven stories are Why China?, Sacred Heart, Emerald City, The Stylist, One Piece, The Watch Trick, Passing the Hat, Puerto Vallarta, Spanish Winter, Letter to Josephine, and Sisters of the Moon.

In some stories, I simply felt like a chicken who lost on Moon (what a frustrated state, right?). I didn’t get the main point in the story. ‘What’s the point, dude?’ asked little old me. Some stories just couldn’t passed through the Gate of Comprehension in my brain, tsk. Well, obviously, there still things we can learn and take it as lesson if we are given the problems of life like in these stories, but what’s the story trying to accomplish? I couldn’t comprehend. I really feel pointless to read these stories; Why China?, The Stylist, and The Watch Trick.

And then, there these stories that made me brutally wrinkled my eyebrows, I was confused and just couldn’t accept it in my common sense. I mean, it’s just... gosh... how could... why they... I can’t even... AAARRRGH!!! Egan gives us reality problems but the reaction of the characters are just... I don’t know how to put it into words. These are the the stories I’m talking about; Why China? (yes, this one again), Sacred Heart, Passing the Hat, and Letter to Josephine.

But, I did enjoy some stories and went with the stories flows nicely. ‘Hm, I guess this is it, the story people in Goodreads praised about!’ I wondered excitedly. The stories seemed cool, everything in its portion, odd characters but still acceptable, I really expected a memorable climax for these stories. These stories; Emerald City, One Piece, Letter to Josephine, and Sisters of the Moon, led me up, up, up, and in the end they made me...

From eleven short stories in this book, there supposed to be at least one that is bearable, right? Good news for me, there are two! After my reading experience from the rest of the stories, these two were really my good news. They are Puerto Vallarta and Spanish Winter. In fact, I can say I was totally captivated with these two. And these two stories made me add half a star to my rating for this book, I meant to give it 1,5 stars only at first...

I don’t say Egan’s writing skill is poor or anything below extraordinary (I have not enough credibility to say that kind of thing). Because, like I said in the first paragraph, she’s amazing. Her stories are full of smart and neat diction. This is actually my reason I could read this book until the last page although I couldn’t bear with the actual stories. I read this book in its original language and by that, I still could entertained by the author’s character and style of writing. If this book gets translated into Indonesian, I probably won’t have any reason left to keep reading after the first short story.

In this book, Egan skillfully inserts satir and clever humor elements. But, what blew me the most was how Egan visualized the stories settings PERFECTLY. Reading her stories, it instantly formed clear pictures in my head and I didn’t feel any over elaboration anywhere. Her description of place is stunning, outstanding, and beyond what eyes usually see, she also describes place’s culture with great details. Really, she writes charmingly, just take a look at some quotes I got below from Emerald City and Other Stories. Personally, and frankly, I couldn’t find place in my heart for the short stories in this book. I don’t know why my reaction is kind of off compared to Goodreads people’s. Did my brain mess with me while I read this book? Perhaps. All in all, I’m not trying to persuade you guys to not read this book, quite opposite actually, I want you to give it a try, go read this book. After you finished, please do share your thought with me.

“I found the lady tea vendors out in force—women whose idea of washing glass was to sprinkle water on it.”

“She held me, her strong warm arms around my neck, and suddenly I was sorry, too, to see, for the first time, what I had become.”

“Rory had been amazed to learn that in breakfast cereal shots it was standard to use Elmer’s glue instead of milk.”

“Jann seems confused, so she goes on. ‘Have you noticed how no one really likes each other?’ she says. ‘We’re like a family.’”

“I guess it’s always romantic when two people fall in love.... Even if it turns out not to be real.”

“While other people our age were protesting the Vietnam War and experimenting with communes, we were buying and redecorating vast houses, overextending ourselves on private schools, and throwing summertime parties in Belvedere and Tiburon, where late at night you were likely to be shoved, fully clothed and still holding your glass, into someone’s swimming pool.”

“Catherine had never looked happier, I thought, as if there were some thrill, some rarefied pleasure most of us would never know, that came of stealing a man from his wife.”

“... getting what you want is only the beginning. The hard part is holding on to it.”

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