Happy New Year!

Reading is such a strange thing. You read something that shakes you, reaches deep inside you and rearranges who you are. . . but nobody else knows about it. Here you are, a completely different person who has absorbed this work of art and made it part of yourself, and nobody has any idea.

In the new year, I wish everyone several strange and incredible reading experiences that will take you apart and then put you back together.

Book Notes: Janet Fitch’s White Oleander

Amazing, incredible news: this is a female Bildungsroman that I loved. Because it’s good. It’s very, very good. I’ve read dozens of these little bastards and completely despaired of finding a worthwhile one because the genre is just so formulaic.

One of the reasons I hate female coming of age novels is that there are no mothers. They are either dead or are patient, downtrodden victims of the patriarchy who only appear in the book to give the daughters a chance to reject their oppressed existence. I told you, it’s formulaic as hell.

Fitch, however, finally wrote a female Bildungsroman that is all about a relationship between a daughter and her mother. And it’s a very complicated mother who’s not a typical, formulaic victim but a murderer serving a life sentence and still maintaining an iron grip on her daughter. The daughter goes through a series of foster homes, and in each there is a woman who represents a facet of her mother’s personality: a pathetic sex addict, a vapid whore, a cold-hearted sadist, a tender, oversensitive creative type, a dumb foreigner. What makes a mother? What unmakes her? Why does having a mother not work if there is no father?

These are very important questions. And readers want this kind of book. White Oleander was a mega bestseller, promoted by Oprah, translated into every language. It was published in 1999 when American authors still wrote about the reality around them.

Since then, Fitch hasn’t written anything that sounds remotely interesting. She’s currently working on a multi-volume saga about the Russian revolution. The Russian revolution books of hers aren’t anything as successful as White Oleander but she keeps ploughing on. And if you read the novel, you’ll see why. Or just look at the recent Amazon reviews. The novel doesn’t conform to the official view of reality, so it can’t be good. Fitch managed to squeeze it in right before the iron gates of political correctness clanged shut on American art. The whole point of the novel is that a woman is not a man. She’s not a “construct” but a different biological reality. The novel also goes against the current dogma on sexuality and consent. And accusing it of “racism” would be a breeze.

Nobody writes anything worthwhile about today because you are going to get destroyed, so what’s the point? Instead, we get piles of novels about WWI, the Russian revolution, and year 1956.

As a funny aside, I visited Fitch’s blog, and it’s extraordinary how boring and conventional she is as a person. It never ceases to amaze me how completely shallow, uninteresting people can create art. The book is so much bigger than the author that it’s crazy.

Great, great book, and a wonderful conclusion to a beautiful reading year.