Monday, September 13, 2010

The Freak Observer

Cover of The Freak ObserverI've just finished reading Blythe Woolston's debut novel The Freak Observer. Twice.

I admit I was a little afraid to start it, because I've been reading her blog for a while and I wouldn't have known what to do if I didn't like the book. But as soon as I had read the first few pages, I knew that wouldn't be a problem.

The main character, a Montana girl named Loa, is a misfit whose life circumstances unfold throughout the book. I would describe them as painful (which they are), except that would make you think the book is all stress and trauma.

Stress and trauma are definitely key, but as promised on the book flap, Woolston interweaves astrophysics with life and death to create a resonant story of survival.

Some of the book's finest moments are in the carefully observed details of life, such as the grinding physicality of cleaning up after meals for a roomful of nursing home residents.

Another thing I loved was that, in a story that's so much about death, Woolston doesn't leave out the way that humor so often bubbles up inappropriately:

Reba isn't wearing the right kind of clothes [for a funeral]. She's got on a a black dress, too, but it's an LBD with sheer black sleeves and glittering beads that would attract magpies if she stood by the side of the highway.

Two things attract magpies: sparkly stuff and roadkill. This particular funeral is a jackpot for magpies (page 33).
And all with Loa's dry, dry voice as a constant companion:
Adults don't have nightmares as much, unless they have "thin-boundary creative personalities" -- or they are batshit crazy. It's nice to have options (page 127).
One final favorite quote, from when Loa goes to visit a university library for the first time:
There is the Dewey decimal section. It is a ghetto for old books that couldn't just be put in the dumpster but weren't worth the trouble of assigning new numbers and moving to new shelves. There are the shelves of oversize books, exiled from their natural clans by their gigantism. Atlases, anatomy books, fashion portfolios, they are all tossed together and expected to get along (page 86).
The Freak Observer is a book that gets along, too, despite its challenging subjects, because Loa is so compelling.

1 comment:

Blythe Woolston said...

I'm very grateful for this--especially for recognizing the jokes. Thank you.