The No Scrubs Book Club assembled Sunday, six weeks after our first meeting to allow everyone to settle comfortably into 2014.
The book was nominated by a member who had had it recommended by her mother. None of us had seen the film, or read it before, so we all went in blind.
The story follows Oskar, a nine year old boy struggling to come to terms with his fathers death, two years prior, in the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Finding a strange key in his father’s cupboard, and having been taught by his father to look for clues (to anything and everything) everywhere, he begins a quest of sorts to discover the meaning of the key.
For the most part, the book is written from Oskar’s point of view, staying close in first person past tense. However there are also chapters written, in the form of letters, from Oskar’s Grandmother and missing Grandfather, recounting their tragic marriage following the blitz in Germany.
The writing could be said to be experimental, and is accompanied by pictures and handwritten passages and notes and blank pages.
Opinions on this book were mixed.
Most members liked the book, finding it extremely moving and poignant, though depressing. Some enjoyed it for the most part, but found the endings too sudden and left everything feeling a little purposeless. One member found it incredibly hard to get through, because the writing style and wacky formatting did her head in, which I know, because that member was me.
It was a long, and interesting discussion – partly because, even if you didn’t like the book there was still plenty to discuss and partly because I’m friends with some very intelligent, thoughtful women – and ranged from Oskar’s believability as a nine year old, the abusive nature of the Grandparents relationship, the positive male relationships, the way the women were defined by the men in their lives, the occasionally overwhelming quirkiness, how hard to read some of the conversations were due to formatting and unclear character voices, which chapters and passages we found the most engaging, how bad this family is at communicating, how we interpreted the ending and, inevitably, where we all were when we found out about 9/11 and its impact on us as a society and a generation.
At the conclusion, most of the group agreed they were glad they’d read the book, calling it beautiful, engaging, and thoughtful. And I made a face.
I rate this book two stars out of five, but plan to watch the film to see if I enjoy the story when removed from the writing.
Next month’s book is Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson, which I have never read or heard of. But it’s well loved by the member who nominated it, so I’m excited to dive in.