Sunday, April 5, 2009

All He Ever Wanted - By Anita Shreve

Like many literary fictions, one has to finish the whole book, think about it and only until then one can start to appreciate it.

Contrary to the modern book cover, the story was set in the early 1900s. It's a recollection of an Egnlish professor who was remembering and writing the story about his marriage and his wife. The story first appeared to be a typical early 20th century "boy meets girl" story that ended up in a nuptial. Through the seemingly ordinary and peacful years of the narrator's married life, the book raised a question in my mind as "how many marriages in that era were having deceiving covers like that, and how many couples are living through similar marriages nowadays?"

This is the second book I read from Anita Shreve. Like "The Pilot's Wife" I last read, the author had plotted secrets in a story that's about ordinary people. I guess this has become Anita Shreve's signature to expose some secrets and to brew some storms, so that she can break the calm and peace of her heroes' lives. However, my problem with this book is that I didn't get the big fuss about the secrets when they were finally exposed at the end of the book. After being bored for weeks (cause I had a hard time turning the pages of this book, this just isn't a page turner for me..) by the slow development of the Professor's pursuit of his wife and his narration about his marriage, I was somewhat disappointed when I finally learnt the secrets.... Maybe if I were from the early 20th century, I would have found them more shocking.

As much as I felt bored reading this book, I do find this story thought stimiluating after I finished it. I admire the author's ability to use an ordinary story to examine the human desires, weakness, emotion and feelings. While the characters are ficitional, the underlying observation is real and timeless (whether it was the early 1900s or now). The story helps me see that: 1) Many marriges are entered into because of selfishness. 2) Love is very often a decorative word for one's obsession and desire to possess another. 3) Children are often by-products of a marriage or bargain chips used by married couples to control one another and to build leverage in a marriage. 4) Many people are often selfish and cowarded and they don't have the courage or backbone to face the consequence of their choices. 5) Many people are greedy and they often pursue things that they want but are unwilling to pay for the price. 6) Many people tend to create misery for themselves by wanting things that just don't belong to them... (may I know why?)

The book's main characters did exaclty all the above. Etna, the professor's wife is the character I dislike most and is a woman I have no respect for. (whatever you think I mean about Etna is mostly not what I actually mean, email me to find out why, but you need to read the book first to understand.) I don't like Professor Van Tassel that much but I somehow have some symphathies for him. I just wish he could sound more masculine, cause the kind of details he gave about clothes, interiors, and feelings, made me wonder, "could a man really talk like this?" May be a man from that era could. I don't really know. Just I had this mental picture of a woman dressed up as a man acting in a play while I was reading the book....

For those of you who haven't read the book yet, I want you to know that whatever happened at the time when the narrator met his wife has lots of significance of whatever happened at the end of the book. The twist is not what you think it is... (if you read the backcover excerpt and have an idea, you've probably got the wrong idea like I had...)

I hate reading the book, but I kind of appreciate it now that I have finally finished reading it. This is all I have to say and I hope that I didn't reveal too much of the plots and the story.

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