on the surface, yes, i gave the second part of this series the same three
stars cats as the first part, hunger, but know that this three stars cats is a shinier three.
this one also starts with a clever premise: if an anorexic girl was chosen to be famine for the first volume, who will be the incarnation of war for the second? ohhh a cutter. makes sense. someone with a lot of pent-up aggression who uses bloodshed as a coping mechanism.
the author says that, unlike the eating disorders from the first book, she does not have a personal background with cutting. me, i am just the opposite. i have never skipped a meal, but baby liked to play with knives. oh, great, a confessional book report, just what goodreads.com needs, right? nah, it was never severe, it was just something i used to do, it was never ritualized like in this book, and it was very limited: the girl in this story does arms, legs, chest, stomach…i just have the one arm (okay, chest once). and there wasn’t a body of literature devoted to the subject when i was a teenager, or if there was, i wasn’t aware of it. so it is great that books like this exist to help girls who have a more intense problem than i did.
with me, it started when i was veryvery small, like seven, and it wasn’t because of any conflict, really, i just found that pain relaxed me. i used to dig my nails in my scalp for long periods of time, until it started to bleed, and it would feel good. i would scratch the same place on my arm sloooowly until it bled, fascinated by the way the skin would start to turn shiny and tight before the blood started to appear in little tiny beads. it was this weirdly clinical and detached process, sometimes only semiconscious, when i was watching tv or reading. when i became a teenager, and discovered knives, that was altogether different. and i didn’t know anyone else who did it—i didn’t even know it was “a thing.” i didn’t think i was oh-so-special or cool or anything, i just thought i had found, on my own, a method for relaxing myself when shit got too intense, and an extension of my earlier experiments with bloodletting. i felt neither shame nor pride in my scars, they were just something that happened. i used to blame them on the cat whenever i was asked about them, even though, unless they thought i owned a tiger, i wasn’t fooling anybody. and this became a kind of code between myself and a close friend of mine, and i would say “kitteh came last night.” (the same friend ended up having an abortion senior year, which we started calling “grendel” as a reference to john gardner’s “grendel’s had an accident,” so you can see that we were in the habit of handling huge life changing incidents with a carefully constructed façade of lighthearted bravado.) i didn’t drink in high school, but i felt that my situation was like a cheerleader coming into school the day after having gotten super drunk at a party the night before and maybe doing something out of character: indulgent smiles all around, no cause for alarm.
but for some kids, it is most certainly a cause for alarm. this book is clearly a response to that. i did have to go to the hospital one time; i was not at home, and didn’t realize that other people’s knives were wayyyy sharper than my own personal paring knife, but even then, i felt that my situation was manageable. when i was angry, i would cut. cause and effect.
and that is the part of the book that is great. she really does, for someone with no personal history here, get that impulse down on paper. she gets the feeling of all-consuming emotions getting too big and feeling like they are going to make you explode unless you make a hole for the shit to come out of. and the fascination, once the blood and the endorphins start to flow. the calm. it is absolutely like a drug. the temptation of it, the moment, the release. it soothes, it is sensual. so she does a really good job getting inside this character’s head in terms of her need for this kind of release valve.
but again, the horsemen stuff is less satisfying. just like in the first volume, if this were just an isolated story about a girl who finds, through dreamlike reveries, the power to control her anger and find more healthful ways of releasing it by understanding the larger frame of violence in the world and coming to terms with the smallness of her own pain, this would be quite good.
but kurt cobain as death is back again. and i’m just not sure where she is going with this horsemen thing. she seems to be sending teen girls out into the world to make it a better place and to solve their own self-harming practices in the process, but i don’t see anything unifying yet. except kurt cobain as death.
the writing is better in this one, it is still breezy, but there are attempts at more figurative language. school is “that dread institution of audacity and hormones, all wrapped up in a pretty box and topped with a diploma,” and the ritual of cutting is done pretty nicely:
“Scars,” she whispered. The word itself was like a cut: the initial smooth motion of the S as she raises the blade, the quick flash of the hard C, biting her skin; the fluid AR as her blood wells; the final, lazy S, leaking out of her, mixed with all the badness that had made breathing so very difficult.
i like that. but i also like scars.
the gradual overcoming of her problem (not really a spoiler, because obviously this is a book about overcoming these kinds of issues) is a little unrealistic. because in this book, some SERIOUSLY BAD SHIT happens to her, shit that even people will full control of their actions and with deep reserves of personal strength would have difficulty getting past, so it seems a little confusing to me that things like this would just roll off her back (with difficulty, yes, and with the temptation to cut) when the earlier, less serious problems she had faced were what led her to the razor in the first place. but then, i have never been chosen to fill the office of WAR. it may be more psychologically woven in a person than i realize.
so, a good novel about self-mutilation, a better novel than hunger, and socially important, but still not for me, unless there starts to be some purpose for this horsemen conceit.