I posted quite a while ago on a book I read called A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved it more than I can tell you, though I tried in the post. I will always try.
So. I finished another book by Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I stayed up too late several nights ago to finish it and was exhausted all the next day. That day was heavy and my heart was soft, hammered into mush from the book. (I told you about that day – the post on that is called “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” in case you wanted to read that, too.)
I bought 4 copies today to give as gifts. Maybe I’ll buy more, but 4 was a good enough start.
The story is about a girl, 7 year-old Elsa, and her Granny, who dies and leaves a treasure hunt of sorts behind for Elsa. There are people and dogs and fairy tales, it’s funny and sad, about death but more about life. The characters are odd (I would say “delightfully odd” if I were a critic. I’m not. I’m just a man in a chair who writes for a blog that few read. If you’re reading this, you’re part of a select club. Thank you. But maybe a critic is just a person in a chair, too. Anyway.) The characters are odd and not all are very likable.
Not everybody is likable in real life, either. And those that are to me aren’t to everyone. I think my neighbors are probably the only people I know who it would be impossible not to like.
But what makes me not at all like a critic is what I’m about to do now. I don’t want to talk about the book any more. I thought I wanted to talk about the story and how it felt when I was surprised by the characters. As it turns out, I don’t.
Last night, I read another Backman book, called The Deal of a Lifetime. It is also, to borrow a phrase from Dave Eggers, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. This one is short and devastating. I won’t talk about this one, either.
The best thing about art, these books in particular today, is how they are an invitation into the parts of ourselves that are usually roped off, back rooms where nobody goes. Real life is so much more about brushing teeth and alarm clocks than themes, narratives, depth and connection, but they’re all there if we only take the time and attention to recognize them. They’re all there barely under the surface, asking to be unearthed. We hide them because of their uncomfortable complexity, but they are ultimately the things that make life so wonderful. My tears were a cleansing, an offering in gratitude that we are here and we are now. In such tremendous gratitude that we are alive.