Author: William Giraldi (A)
It’s not hard to spot a love story nowadays, is it?
I mean there’s always the classical romance. Guy meets girl, girl and guy fall in love, something terrible happens and they break up, only to eventually come back together. That Asshole Nicholas Sparks ™ makes a ton of money off of people by writing that exact scenario over and over, though he has this nasty habit of throwing in ‘big concepts’ like wars or Alzheimer’s. It’s what we as human beings love to read about. Love in books, though it is intended to be just as mind bending and mud sloggingly difficult as a real relationship, still retains some kind of purity. I think we prefer it that way. If the two star crossed lovers wind up together in the end- in death or taxes- then something important has been restored. We can’t help but cheer for Mr. Darcy. That’s what makes chick lit so readable, isn’t it? Love. It’s a stupid word. It exists to describe the one thing that cannot in any language be truly explained.
Busy Monsters is, at its heart, a love story.Of course, you could have predicted that without me telling you; it’s right there in the description on the dust jacket. The difference between this love story and other love stories is that I wasn’t sure who I was rooting for, and miracle of miracles, if I wanted love to last happily ever after.
A synopsis: Charles Homar, a column memoirist of no little infamy, is deeply in love with Gillian Lee. Gillian leaves Charles to pursue her dream of capturing a giant squid, scant months before their wedding. Charles-as most men in romantic narratives are wont to do- proceeds to think of everything he can to get his girl back.
Simple. Fish and cut bait. The man, the woman, the crazy ex wife/insurmountable economic difference/staunch southern pride/giant squid that tears them apart. Textbook, you’d think.
I’d have to disagree. Despite their fatal flaws there is something about romantic heroes that draws women in. They have a moxie, a hutzpah, a something. We can forgive them their faults because we know in some way they will come through. Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, Mellors- they smoulder, in a fashion that makes the panties moist.
Charles Homar does not smoulder.
He barely even sputters.
I didn’t like Charles for a long time. I’m a sexist at heart, is the problem. I find most of the male species mildly irksome at best and the eternal doom of our society at worst. Darcy I raise my eyebrows at, to Rochester I shake my head; but I really, truly, madly, deeply, wanted to strangle Charles Homar after ten or so pages.
The way Charles talks about Gillian in his first few chapters rubbed me in a fashion I would only lightly describe as ‘wrong’. It smacked to me of obsessive love, which is the hallmark of the Surrealists, whom I would very much like to have dropkicked out a fourth story window for all the good they did. What kind of man drives to another state with the intention of murdering his girlfriend’s ex lover? The answer is generally a deluded and possessive one. Women are not possessions to be fought over. Was Charles even going to try and explain himself? In a way that didn’t put him deeper into the hole he started digging when he first mentioned said hare-brained plan to murder ex lover?
He did, eventually. A friend convinced me to give the novel a second chance. I’m not overwhelmingly happy I did so, but I am satisfied. I hate to leave a book unread, and besides- I wanted to know how exactly he planned on winning back the girl of his dreams. Whom he had just tried to impress by shooting the boat she was on full of holes. I began to feel pity for Charles, or at least something remarkably like it. whether or not his love for Gillian was healthy, it definitely existed. That’s reason enough for a romantic hero to begin his crusade.
The problem with this crusade, however, is that neither Charles nor Gillian are the heroes. It is far less a romantic epic a la Victorian goth literature, and more a drug-fuelled sexapalooza involving Moby Dick and the Odyssey. Who is Penelope, who is Odysseus? Charles makes the comparison himself several times and flip flops between them depending on his situation. Fair enough, I suppose, to introduce to the love story what most other authors gloss over and that is time. Gillian is gone for months. Charles himself spends days almost unnumbered in the wilds of various states, trying to find something, anything, that will bring her back to him. There are examples throughout the book as to whether or not love can withstand the test of time. The conclusion Charles comes to, subconsciously, is that it can. That’s good for him. Because by the time the book ends he has to think about how to capture another giant squid.
You recall I said I didn’t know who to root for? The confusion begins once Gillian leaves on her quest. It is communicated to Charles that she wanted to live her dream before she was tied down to marriage and family, that he didn’t truly understand her ambitions or her affection for the giant squid. Though I couldn’t love Charles, I could still wince at a sucker punch. He really didn’t see it coming, and for that I felt pity. I almost wanted to call Gillian an unfeeling whore, because what kind of woman doesn’t at least mention to her boyfriend that she’s considering getting on a ship and touring the oceans for a few months in search of the kraken? When Charles began contemplating ways to get her back, I almost wanted to tell him to forget her. Clearly, she wasn’t worth it.
To Charles, however, she was, and this is the driving force of his journey. Gillian Lee is worthy of the cause because, though he understands nothing about humans around him and in point of fact could very well be lying through his teeth about everything he does, the single truth remains: he loves Gillian. Romantic? I suppose. Stupid? Certainly, but earnest in a way few people nowadays are.
Charles makes it very hard for you to put your trust in him. As the first person narrator of the book he has complete control over what it is that we understand. Of course since he is a memoirist the artistic liberties can only stretch so far, but stretch they do, from bigfoot to aliens to butch lesbian boxing matches. Did it all happen? Does it matter? What matters is that in the end, Gillian and Charles are a single unit again, a pair. True love, such as it were, conquers all.
The style of Busy Monsters has been compared to Vonnegut. That might explain why I found it hard to take at first. Kurt and I don’t get along. However, once you realize that every once in a while you might need a dictionary, Charles makes for an entertaining narrator, if a not entirely honest one. The characters he meets range from the mighty african voodoo warrior to the mousy little ufo specialist to the Navy Seal best friend. I have a habit of taking facts like this at face value. If the narrator says to me, “my best friend is a navy seal and spends a lot of time overseas shooting at Arabs.” I will believe him, even though this might not be the case. It makes me essentially useless for the truth vs. Truth debate, which one could easily get into with this book.
Leaving out the various subplots and possible aesthetic and scholarly debates that accompany a book so chock full as Busy Monsters, I’d say give it a read. It’s an impressive first novel and, assuming you don’t have the sexist hangups I do, a fun romp in the woods.
I just made a funny.
but you’ll have to read the book to find out how.