Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Josh reviews "Everything Happens Today" by Jesse Browner

Marie and I must be on the same wavelength, since when I logged in to post my review she had just posted hers. I hope that the two reviews can be taken together; in an effort to do so, I will begin by saying that I agree 70-80% with Marie's review. If you haven't read it, do so first.

Wes is a teenager growing up in New York City's Greenwich Village. He has a rather unique life. Depending on your view, some might call it blessed--others might view it more tragically. Distant father, sick mother, difficult and challenging school and assignments. This book chronicles the events of one very fateful twenty-four hours for our young protagonist. Everything Happens Today is a book I so wanted to love, after all I had won it in the giveaway from Europa and to dislike it would be the epitome of looking a gift horse in the mouth.

But here's the rub. I can't say I loved it. Mind you, I can't say I hated it. Marie described the book as a more privileged version of another work. I completely agree. Universality is a most difficult idea to communicate through literature, akin to grabbing fog. Some books succeed--The Chill, The Cider House Rules and in some ways A Novel Bookstore do so quite well each in their own way-- in universal themes despite the inherent uniqueness of their story. Others, like this, lose their universality in their narrative and description.

If I was reading this as a person raised in a low-income home, or as one raised in a less-developed nation, this book would royally piss me off. His mother has a form of multiple sclerosis that most likely would have been misdiagnosed or treated in a lower income or even middle class family. His mother's family money has enabled them to pay for a nurse 6 days a week while his father is a university professor. Wes is attending a well-known private school (on scholarship) that in this society pretty much guarantees him success later in life. He's stressed in part because THIS IS THE ONE DAY A WEEK HE HAS TO TAKE CARE OF HIS MOTHER- an act that entails all of bringing her pudding and sitting with her.

I get that we all have our burdens. I get that all of our burdens challenge us in different ways, but Wes' character--while intriguing in that teenage male stream of consciousness sort of way--never brought about any sympathy from me. I was like "War and Peace!? You're reading War and Peace as a high school assignment! Gimme a break buddy, and you took copious notes throughout? Puh-leeze!"

Browner's prose and narrative is fine, his detail and knowledge are clear and deep. There are passages that show a brilliance of descriptive analysis and his plot moves along sufficiently quickly that I very much wanted to find out what happened next. I naturally now want to watch Bob Ross re-runs for inspiration and happy trees because of this book. I do not however, want to throw this book out for everyone I know to read. It needs a reader of correct age and maturity to gleam its more meaty nuggets of truth and like Marie, I feel I may be out of range or maybe just out of touch with the problems of Greenwich Village white families to invest too heavily in this one.