So, it's pretty easy to keep your book club exclusive when you pick books like Ben Marcus' Notable American Women. When I gave my first copy of the book away, I warned the recipient that I wasn't completely sure it was actually readable. Not that I didn't think it would be well-written, I just wondered if it was going to be possible for me to pick up the book, move through a word, then a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page, and at the end of that, feel that I had done more than just look at a collection of letters. Not like, the "Dear Ben" kind of letter, more like ABCD kind of letters.
Turns out I needn't have worried. Exactly. Cassandra, Kathleen, Lisa and I all agreed that we would not want to have to say exactly what the book was about, or explain to an innocent bystander just what exactly was going on, nor would we want to claim that we understood the book. I think I felt a little more comfortable with the not-knowing, though perhaps they will correct me if I am wrong, and I certainly have plenty to say about the contents of the book, when in the company of three smart ladies like C, K, and L. What this book did offer to all of us though, vividly, for better or worse, was a very distinct experience of having read it. This book made all of us laugh, marvel at its cleverness in places, feel moved by an intense sense of loneliness in the book, by shame and other things, but of course we also wanted, on occasion, very much, to throw the book and Ben Marcus himself across the room. And none of us, by the time Book Club met, had finished it.
No matter, we were inspired afterwards to read through, if only to see, how do you end a book like this? The kind of book that you can read aloud to your husband (if you happen to have a nice one) while you are laughing, I imagine, nearly hysterically at some absurdity, at the way it will strike him, being heard out of context, and have him say "What the HELL are you reading?". Things about rags in mouths and Fainting Tanks and almonds and "wind" as a word sometimes misspelled as I-t-h-u-r-t-s. It was, nonetheless a work that had its own internal logic and that is something I very much admire in a piece of writing.
Also, in discussing endings, and how Ben Marcus could possibly end this particular collections of sentences, Cassandra came up with an excellent term for a kind she has come to dislike - the "Poetic Shrug". Good, isn't it?