Sunday, October 21, 2007

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #96

Title: Sophie's Choice
Author: William Styron
Judgin' the Book by Its Cover: Super boring cover art... that's all I have to say on the subject.

Thoughts: I'll be honest-- I've been dreading this review for some time (I finished the book two weeks ago-- does that tell you anything?). But, as I'm learning, Quixotic quests ain't easy and you're going to have to do things that you would prefer not to.

Here's the thing with this book: every time you think that things couldn't possibly get worse, a horrible new truth is revealed. It was a little bit like a Lifetime movie in the sense that the atrocities that dogged the character seemed unrealistic and made it difficult to connect with the main character or to view her as a fellow human. But I guess that tells you a lot about human nature-- it's incredibly difficult to look evil, heartache, and pain straight in the eye. It's much easier to ignore, try to forget, or laugh it off.

Sophie's Choice had a lot to say about guilt and ways that people deal with it. The book really illustrated the way that people hide guilt by telling untruths to themselves and to the people around them to keep from addressing an ugly reality. It also depicts how it is often only with lots of time and lots of telling and retelling that we hear the true story of someone's life. It challenged me to be a listener and an observer, someone who patiently waits for others to feel safe enough to tell stories that they desperately need to share.

On a different note altogether, this is the first book from the reading list that is set in New York, and it is an intriguing window into a New York of days long gone. The narrator's experience as an outsider living in Jewish Flatbush in the days immediately following WWII is ably described and quite fascinating.

Overall, this was a well-written book that wrestled with a variety of difficult topics. It's well-worth a read, but probably only when you have the time and energy to properly absorb the material.

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