“She wondered if it was ever possible in the world to be anything other than on your own and whether that wasn’t the best way to be.”
This is a not altogether nice look at the inner lives of the three featured characters. There’s Alan, who cheated on his wife and now finds himself having to entertain his sixteen year old son during a weekend in Amsterdam. Karen is a single mother who’s sacrificed a lot to give her daughter everything she wanted only to be faced with what she considers the ultimate betrayal by that daughter. Marion is a middle aged woman with doubts about her husband’s loyalty who decides to take rather drastic (and I might add overly dramatic) action to deal with the situation. Because we see events through their eyes only, are living in their heads, and hearing only their thoughts, we are confronted with the inherent selfishness we’re probably all guilty off but prefer not to acknowledge. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking ‘you’re just not that nice’ only to realise that I might well have reacted in the same way and thought the same thoughts when faced with the situation that character found themselves in.
Reading this at times brutally honest book about the shortcomings all of us have in common made me realise that I do prefer it when stories portray people in a somewhat idolised fashion—the way we ought to behave and think rather than the way we all too often do. Something else that felt very realistic and yet threw me at times were the repetitions in what people thought, sometimes showing up as complete and literal reproductions of sentences that had been used before. While I completely agree that our thoughts often run in circles and are repetitive, it’s not something I can read without thinking ‘you could have phrased that differently this time’.
I’m feeling somewhat ambiguous about this book. On the one hand the issues the three main characters are struggling with aren’t earth-shattering—quite the opposite in fact. I mean the fast majority of teenagers are withdrawn and sulky, regardless of whether or not their parents are still together. Most children will want to meet and get to know the parent who abandoned them before they were born, given half a chance just as most relationships will become less sexually active over time. So part of me was constantly thinking ‘get over it already, neither you nor your situation is anything special’. On the other hand, it was the fact that David Parks managed to convincingly portray how those run of the mill concerns can mess with our heads and our lives that really impressed me. And I think he is spot on when he portrays the loneliness we can feel even while surrounded by thousands of others and spending time with those we’re supposed to be close to and comfortable with.
The fabulous and entirely accurate descriptions of Amsterdam in this book delighted me. The author has either been there or did a fabulous job researching the city because I always knew exactly where in Amsterdam his characters were. Even if I had hated the story (which I didn’t) that sense of being in the city where I was born and grew up was fantastic.
Overall this was a very well written book that managed to captivate me despite the fact that I kept on losing my patience with the characters.