“There’s not a thing in the world that will not change, including you.” (Pg.69)
Strange that the most defining line from this novella comes from Isabel’s mother – a character that even the narrator does not understand. She is absent for most of Isabel’s life, and from most of the book. Yet, this line seems to define my interpretation of the story. Just as glaciers morph through stages of existence so too do human beings. There is much change and unrest in this story. From the life of Isabel as a child to her relationship with Thomas “Spoke,” so many small moments transform Isabel.
The first big transition for Isabel comes as a child when her father brings her into her first junk shop. The purchase of some old photographs impress upon her a love for the antique and worn down. This distinguishing trait moves through her whole life causing her to choose things from another era time and again. Even her job as a book conservator displays this quirk perfectly. It may even explain her attraction to Spoke. She says of him, “Everything slightly out of style, as if he had been away for awhile.” (pg.44) And an attraction she certainly has, hard. One of my favorite things about this story is the sexual tension that is threaded throughout. But Smith is careful to never tread into overtly graphic. Though, by the end, she wonders, “If I send him a pair of my panties, could he trade them for booze and M&M’s?” (pg.153)
Another thing I appreciate about this book is how I can truly relate to Isabel. She’s a girl about my age with extremely similar interests and beliefs. Smith makes a great effort to have the novel seem classic and yet she refers to New Kids on the Block and playing games like MASH. I was reminded of my own childhood often, which made me root for Isabel all the more. Smith says of her at one point, “Before Isabel could read, she loved books.” (pg.49) In the margin of the book I couldn’t resist writing “me too!” as if she could hear me across the pages. Even her tenuous relationship with her older sister has a realistic note to it, as we all have struggled with how to define our familial relationships at times. Their shared reaction to meeting their aunt and learning about the family was so familiar.
This book really moved me. I felt it was well-written from start to finish, and it dealt with the small moments in life. It shows a moment in a character’s life so beautifully. The story only really takes place during one day, but we learn about Isabel as a whole person through a variety of flashbacks and shared memories with other characters. Storytelling is at its best for me when it is this fluid. Each part seemed to move the story forward and each detail important to the main theme. Even at the end, when Isabel finds out that Spoke has a secret, her reaction is so indicative of her character, “Isabel could implode.” (pg.119) Implosion means no harm to others. Even at her lowest she does not want to hurt the things around her. That’s why she saves antique items and why she is vegetarian–no harm to others. The thing I love most about this book are the great characters. Each one is interesting and dynamic, despite the modest length of this tome.
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If the discussion of the quotidian aspects of a life really fascinate you then please read “Cathedral.” To put it in its most basic terms, it is the story of a husband and wife that host a blind man for dinner. However, it reveals more about the human condition than many long-winded novels. After reading you will find yourself staring at other people as they enjoy a meal. You will never look at a church or any impressive architecture quite the same either. I love all of his works, but this one has stuck with me for a long time.
Let’s read a classic, too. Any of Salinger’s short stories are so good at making a really important statement with really fantastic characters in a short amount of time. His story “A Perfect Day for a Bananafish” endears the audience to its main character, Seymour Glass, in just a few pages. Even the little girl, Sybil Carpenter, is a fully-realized character and she only has a few lines. Read all of Nine Stories. In fact, read all of Salinger’s short fiction. It is infinitely better than Catcher in the Rye and you’ll find many more relatable characters than Holden Caulfield.
Thank you for joining our discussion! Let me know how you feel about any of these books or authors. If you have any personal recommendations please leave them in the comments.
See you later, see you soon.