For my A-Z CanLit Project‘s letter ‘N’, I went with Nancy Lee. I thought about reading her story collection, Dead Girls, but decided to go with her novel, The Age. Has anyone read Dead Girls?
In The Age, it is 1984, and there is a lot on the news about the threat of nuclear disaster. Gerry has been tuned into this fear, watching the news diligently and having nightmares about it. Instead of talking to her mother, she has been hanging around with a small group of anarchists who are planning something for the upcoming peace march.
She is not afraid of the dark, she tells herself. She is afraid of spiders, of dying a virgin, of the new virus, detonators and plutonium, warships in the Persian Gulf. She is afraid of airplane sounds, the shape of certain cloud formations, gas masks, submarines, the electric squeal of the emergency broadcast system, farmers’ fields that open to mile-deep silos. She is afraid of generals and admirals, and old white presidents. Of seeing her father, and never seeing him, of radiation sickness, and reincarnation, being vaporized only to return to an annihilated world.
I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy this book, but I do think it is good. It is dark and sad, but with a certain kind of energy. Even though I tried not to, I cared about what was happening. Gerry’s (probably very normal) hurtful behaviour toward her mother frustrated me, the group of adults she hung out with made me mad, and her friend was a jerk. But I cared about Gerry and her safety, and I cared about her working things out with her mother.
Things I Liked:
- The writing. I would definitely read more by this author.
- The pop-culture references to the 80s – the music, the movies, the clothes, and the bad hair.
- The end. Good ending with a much needed feeling of hope.
- The author’s vivid description of the peace march.
- Gerry’s Grandfather taking action (even though it was a terrible example for his granddaughter).
- The story Gerry imagined about a post-nuclear world in which ‘monstrous’ babies are being born, and raiding and pillaging are a common occurrence.
- Reading about Gerry’s relationship with her mother.
Things I Didn’t Like:
- Gerry’s relationship with her mother. (I liked reading about it, but found it frustrating.)
- The overall feeling of loneliness that radiated off most of the characters.
- Most of the characters made me mad, except for maybe the mother.
- Gerry’s group of ‘friends’ sat around talking about the same things every night. Didn’t they have other things to do?
The story in this book just wasn’t my thing, but others might love it. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think! Do you ever get frustrated with fictional characters when they have what they need but can’t see it, or choose to ignore it?
The Blurb on the book describes Gerry as “stubborn, tough, and unaware of her vulnerability until tragedy occurs...”. And the book is “at once a heartbreaking journey through adolescent recklessness and desire and a portrait of a generation shaped by nuclear anxiety“. Perfectly described.
Next in my CanLit Challenge is letter ‘O’. I thought I’d ask for your help on this one (not that I will necessarily take your advice). Which should it be: Lullabies For Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill or In the Skin of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje? (I am also open to other Ondaatje book suggestions, or any other ‘O’ suggestions in general.)