Book 97: The Life of the World to Come



"Fiona and I kept talking, kept living in this way, long after our friends had grown comfortably into their older, smaller lives. We claimed every experience for only ourselves: the first snow, the last rays of the day, every star we gazed at was ripped from the public domain- property of Fiona and Leo's New Life Together, copyright and patent pending and no squatters allowed."

Dates read: October 10-12, 2016

Rating: 5/10

We've all gone to pieces over a bad breakup, haven't we? Tell me I'm not the only one. I had two rough breakups before I met my husband: one with the guy I dated off-and-on for three years in college, and one with the guy I dated off-and-on for a year in law school. I'm friendly with the both of them now, but holy smokes did I lose my brain then (sorry, everyone who had to deal with me). But I think a brutal heartbreak can, in the long run, be a net positive: it certainly helped me reflect on my own behavior in relationships, and think about what I actually wanted out of a partner, and somehow I ended up with the best husband in the world.

In Dan Cluchey's The Life of the World To Come, Leo Brice is a anxiety-ridden pre-law senior in college when he meets Fiona Haeberle. Fiona is quirky, outgoing, mercurial, an aspiring actress, and she and Leo quickly become a couple. They move to New York for Leo's legal education, she gets a job on a cheesy soap opera that films locally, and they're happy. Or so he thinks. Right after he finishes the bar exam, though, she suddenly leaves him in the middle of the night for her co-star.

Leo is completely devastated, and while he tries to put himself back together, he begins a job with a small firm focusing on death penalty appeals. Leo recovers from his breakup as he gets involved in his case, defending a religious man convicted of an out-of-character murder many years prior...with a young, pretty co-counsel who makes Leo feel like there might actually be a life after Fiona maybe. The client is only a half-hearted participant in his own appeal, and his philosophizing helps Leo get his own life back together.

So when I was in college, Garden State was a super-hyped movie. I like it, but it hasn't aged especially well...a lot of the self-conscious quirk on display has come to feel artificial. And it is, of course, the poster child for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trend that was a big thing around that time. I actually think Natalie Portman's Sam is one of the better-done examples of it, but it got a little irritating for a while there. This is relevant here because this totally feels like a screenplay that was written to be one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies and then became a novel. Despite being so central to the plot, Fiona doesn't really have much of a character. Any insight into who she actually is and what drives her is left for a cringeworthy conversation Leo and Fiona have years after their breakup, in which the now-famous Fiona calls her ex to ask if she was a good girlfriend and he gets the chance to take her down a peg (of course he takes that opportunity). It's not presented as a gross moment for him, but rather as a moment of triumph, and that's just one of the issues with this book.

Besides Leo not really being all that interesting on his own (tightly-wound lawyer gets dumped, gets sad, tries to rebound with a coworker...snore), the book doesn't really seem to have a lot of direction or any real idea of what it's trying to say. Breakups suck? Working on a death penalty case can improve your mental health? It's cool to bang your coworkers if your boss eggs you into it? I'm not necessarily opposed to reading white-dude-navel-gazing if it's done well, but this isn't done well. If reading about a 20something dude mourn the loss of his girlfriend who's more concept than person is something that sounds interesting to you, you might enjoy this book. If not, move along.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever had a terrible breakup?

One year ago, I was reading: Sophie's Choice

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