Monday, September 10, 2012

Death and Mass Production (A Book Review and Remembrance)

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I must admit that when I saw this book in the stores, and picked it up, I realized it was the last thing I would want to read.  I mean, just another "kids dying with cancer story," depressing and melodramatic. My mind immediately leapt (the autocorrect doesn't have "leapt" as the past tense form of "leap.") to Death Be Not Proud, which most children have to read during high school at some point.  It's a matter of Pathos, I believe, to read these books where kids (or their pets) die, so that it says 1) "Quit Whining, it could be a whole lot worse. and 2) it prepares them for later traumatic experiences.  I swear I'm gonna rewrite Old Yeller , and make it actually have a happy ending.  Of course, you could always give it a sardonic twist, like authors are doing lately, and instead of a rabid fox biting the dog, you could have a mad werewolf biting the kid, so that the dog lives, but the boy dies.... anyhoo, I'm rambling now.  Back to the book.

But as I was saying, I didn't want to read another "Cancer" book.  My grandmother had just recently died of pancreatic cancer, and so why would I have to go through all that again in the pages of a book?  We want to escape reality, not live it over again.

Well, I was wrong.  Turns out that John Green actually realizes that, to twist a Bob Dylan line, "He busy dying goes through a lot of living." Because as I found out with my grandmother, dealing with death is best done as an affirmation, a recollection, of life.  There's no better way to surround the not-so-pleasant times of dealing with medical issues than to bring forth the humor that surrounds us daily.  My grandmother, as she was being prepared for her aneurysm surgery, was asked, "How do you feel?" She, in her wry humor, replied, "With my fingers."  It was the best thing she could have said.

So John Green picks up on this humorous thread and weaves it through the whole book.  He deals with the emotions of the teenage characters very honestly, with more depth than most Lifetime tearjerker movies.  Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac, (ironic that he's called Isaac, (eye-sic), since he's about to go blind) just roll their eyes at most of the attitudes of the adults in their lives.  They make fun of the "strong fighter kid who is always positive even while they lose his/her hair, limbs, etc....," even, when the time comes, they have to portray that image themselves.

Green picks up on the progression of cancer quite well, even talking about the "last good day" that seems to happen to terminally ill people.  I had one afternoon shortly before my grandmother died where she picked up her spirits and we sat there and laughed and she poked fun at me, before she went so far downhill we couldn't care for her at home.  He painted that scene so well in the book.  It was, to some extent, very cathartic for me.

That the title is based on a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (with all the foreshadowing that it implies), or that the book is filled with references to Eliot's "Prufrock" poem, or Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay,"  are added bonuses for those teachers who will inevitably put down the tired Gunther tome and teach this book to their 10th grade English students instead.

One part of the novel I found interesting, because it goes back to one of my other blog posts, was this fascination by Augustus about the Afterlife, be it a Christian based one or those suggested by any of the other religions, or nothing at all.  And it's fascinating because, if we are to believe that the philosophies of the 20th century and the secular material world have phased out the traditional Christian beliefs of Heaven and Hell, then this part of the book, and other references to the Afterlife (see Beetlejuice, or Paul Simon's song "The Afterlife,"  (go to my blog about the Afterlife for these examples.)
) is a desire to fill that void.  When reading this book and reflecting on it, I was pulled to  the band Death Cab for Cutie's song "I'll Follow You Into the Dark."

An amazing song that goes so well with the book, especially the line, "fear is the heart of love," something the singer rejects.  There's so many ways to incorporate songs, poems, TV shows....etc... into this book, it really would be a great teaching tool, if a little controversial.

Since we're dealing with these subjects, I wanted to put here that a good friend I had in high school died this past week. Johnathan Ashley Nix passed away from a massive stroke.  I always loved his wry sense of humor, his unique way of looking at things, his refusal to let all the normal people of Heritage High to get to him all that much, even while I shrank inside myself from bullying.  It was perhaps this that kept me from really making friends with, well, anybody. He signed my yearbook, my senior year, with a long, rambling diatribe about anything, writing it upside-down and right to left.  It took me holding it up to a mirror to read the whole thing.  In the middle is his tune about "Mass Production," a Henry Ford-esque march anthem, much like you would hear in Brave New World.  I still remember the tune he used to sing it.  I only wish I could have been friends with him longer, from when we met in the 6th grade...  He took me to see a truly horrible version of Hamlet at an Atlanta Theatre for school credit (the professor was friends with someone there, I suspect), and so he brought over a ton of Fantasy books that he didn't want.  Among them was The Quest for the Faradawn by Richard Ford, a British author.  Truly a magnificent work, and one of the few I've read where most of the main characters were animals.  Anyway.... I'm just telling the few points in my life where his "thread" touched mine, and so hopefully it will be made fuller and more complete.  Outside of any afterlife or immortality that our souls go into, the memories that we have here are what keep Ashley living on here, inside our own hearts.  I scanned my yearbook page and have it below.

1 comment:

  1. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. What a nice thing to show what he wrote in your yearbook.
    You are a very good writer. Why don't you have more people to see your blog? You need to leave comments on other blogs so people can "find" you!