i thought you were dead

16 Aug

So, I wanted to devote a post to The Killing Joke, the Batman book (graphic novel?  comic?) that has defined the series since it was published, but it’s hard to find the right words for it.  It was beautiful, and horrible, and terrifying, and thought-provoking, and sad.  In The Killing Joke, writer Alan Moore takes the awkward and comical Joker and turns him into something vile and sympathetic, like the abyss from the famous Nietzche quote.

After I read it, I left the book on the couch for several days, but every time I walked by the illustration on the back cover, poor Jack White with desperate smiling eyes, would give me the jibblies.

Eventually, I buried it in a pile of pillows.

To wash the Batman off, I immediately started in on I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson.

I was pretty sure it was going to be shmaltzy.  I Thought You Were Dead is is the story of Paul Gustavson, divorcee, bad son, dog owner.  After his father has a stroke, he begins to examine his own mortality and his relationship with relationships in general.  The only constant is his fifteen year old dog, Stella, who casually speaks to him throughout the novel, providing him with the only unconditional love he has.

Now, the next part of this contains some spoilers, I guess, but they’re the most general, guessable kind of spoilers.  Were you surprised that Harry Potter defeated Voldemort?  Were you astounded when John McClane killed a dude in Die Hard? If you honestly thought that Frodo was going to get murdered by poisonous ghost kings in the first Lord Of The Rings movie/book, then it may…it may somewhat shock you that Stella, the fifteen year old dog, totally dies.

Last Monday I went to bed on time (a trick I have been cultivating these last few weeks) and decided to pull out I Thought You Were Dead to read a single chapter before turning off the light.  I was expecting to finish the book by Thursday, maybe Friday.  No rush.  The book has a meandering natural pace that doesn’t lend itself to end-of-your-seat suspense, so I never felt compelled to read more than one or two chapters at a time.

So I brushed me teeth and washed my face, slipped between the sheets, and pulled out the book, and started reading.  Blah blah blah…Paul feels lost…blah blah blah…Paul walks around thinking about things…blah blah blah…Paul can’t sleep, stays up late pondering his life…

At this point in the scene, Stella, sweet old arthritic dog, pulls herself next to Paul and calmly tells him it’s time.  She wants to be taken to the kennel to be put to sleep.

Immediately tears start pouring out of the corners of my eyes, soaking my pillow and getting stuck in my ears.

“Oh, God damn it!” I yelled.

I kept reading.

Paul and Stella talk.  I won’t get into the specifics.  Go read it, but you guys.  Get some dang tissues.  After one or two trips to get individual Kleenexes I gave up and got a toilet paper roll out of the bathroom closet and sat up in bed.  The chapter ended with Paul alone, standing quietly in the house where Stella used to be.  I felt betrayed.  One chapter.  One chapter?  What the hell was I supposed to do now?  Just go to sleep?  I tried to calm all the sobbing down, but just ended up honking like a constipated goose as my nose ran and my breath stuck in my throat.  I threw the toilet paper roll across the room and turned the page to the next chapter, weeping openly.

“God double damn it,” I cursed, wiping my nose with my sheets.

To cut a long story short, I finished the book that night.

The last section of I Thought You Were Dead, a section that I devoured all at once, took the quiet build up from the previous pages and released it in a way that felt natural and fitting.  There were no huge dramatic moments.  There were no amazing revelations or shoot outs.  Paul Gustavson finished his story organically and realistically.  It was satisfying.

And maybe, yeah, okay, maybe a little shmaltzy.  But after the snot-fest I needed a little bit of wholesome schmaltz to soak up all the heartbreak.

I Thought You Were Dead is not a beautiful book.  It is not particularly deep or meaningful, but it is reflective.  It is about complicated people who are actually only about as complicated as any normal people are, and it is written in a casual-matter of fact way that is easy to read.  I would say that it’s an airplane book, or a bus book, if you don’t mind spending fifteen minutes bawling your face off in front of strangers.

You all may have noticed that on the sidebar I have added a ‘Currently Reading’ list.  I appreciate all of the suggestions that have come pouring in, and I am making it my little side project to read them all.

I may continue to do little reviews as well, if ya’ll don’t mind them.  Suggestions welcome, and if you’ve read the books, feel free to agree or disagree!


Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “i thought you were dead

  1. Ame

    August 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I just finished The Elegance of the Hegehog and felt the absolute same way. I was in cathartic tears by the end of it. I’d you can get through the philosophically dense, translated-from-French prose there’s a great story there and I would definitely recommend it.

    • Jessica

      August 16, 2010 at 9:40 am

      It’s certainly a beautiful title! I’ll add it to the list. I may snooze through the philosophy but I’m always one for a good story!

  2. Jena

    August 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    I see that you have The Monsters of Templeton on your to read list. I’ve been meaning to pick that up, not because it’s popular right now, but because of the book of short stories she did, Delicate Edible Birds. If you have not read that yet you really should. It’s one of those books that you read and feel like you’re slowly savoring the very last bit of your absolute favorite candy that exists on earth.

  3. Julia

    August 17, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I could recommend a million books for you, but will try starting with just a few…

    For brain candy/quick reads:
    – Dealing with Dragons (and sequels, Patricia C. Wrede) is a snarky, witty take on fairy tale feminism and is frankly just hilarious.
    – Arrows of the Queen (Mercedes Lackey), a series that is one of my guilty fantasy pleasures. Talking animals, etc.
    – Tailchaser’s Song (Tad Williams), a fascinating take on the secret life cats might have behind our backs. Adventuresome, fantastical entertainment. Tad Williams has some great other fantasy series, but they are REALLY long and remarkably intricate (but with incredible character development and twisty plotlines). This is a good one to start with.
    – Anything by David Sedaris. Bust your gut laughing at someone else’s weird life and weird family (sometimes you need a break from laughing at your own).
    – Subterranean (James Rollins). A rocking and rolling adventure book that will have you feeling like you’re on the edge of a cliff, not just the edge of your chair. Couldn’t put it down.
    – World War Z – I feel like you probably have read this, but if you haven’t, it is a MUST. I don’t know anyone who has picked it up who didn’t like it. It’s not too scary, but maybe wait until Taylor comes home, because it can be a bit creepy at night in the dark.

    Other longer/more serious stuff:
    – the Time-Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) was probably my favourite book of the summer, which is saying a lot, seeing as I read like 30 books. Difficult to describe, but a poignant life/love story that is funny, heartbreaking and beautiful, often all at once. Bring some kleenexes.
    – Dogs of Babel (Carolyn Parkhurst), which your entry reminded me of. About a man coping with the death of his wife by trying to teach their dog (who witnessed her death) to talk. As you’d guess, not lighthearted, but worth reading.
    – Pride and Prejudice (another one that you’ve probably read, but I thought I’d throw it on here anyway. I thought it would be old-fashioned, feminine, and boring, but ended up loving it).

    That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head for the moment. Enjoy the library!

  4. Tegan

    August 19, 2010 at 10:20 am

    If you like gothic (which I’m guessing you do…), then I recommend “The Sister” by Poppy Adams. If you need another English crumbly manor house with creep to it after that, follow with “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters (with an appropriate palate cleanser in between– maybe something like “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” by John Green and David Levithan or the fantastic bad-ass virgin-unicorn-killers teen novel “Rampant” by Diana Peterfreund).
    I love the addition of book reviews! Thank you!
    I work in a bookstore, so I’m always chock-full of recommendations (and blog about what I’m reading, too).
    Happy reading!

  5. Becca

    August 21, 2010 at 2:14 am

    One of my favorite authors is Kristin Hannah. All of her stuff is great, but my favorite so far is Firefly Lane. Also for a fun quick read, that will make you laugh out loud is Janet Evanovich. She writes a whole series so I would start with the first book, One for the Money.


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