Friday, July 3, 2015

The Post-Birthday World

#49 - The Post-Birthday World – Lionel Shriver
Recommended by: SR

What began as coincidence had crystalized into tradition: on the sixth of July, they would have dinner with Ramsey Acton on his birthday.

Thus begins one of my favorite books of all time. I have recommended this book over and over again. I’ve made two different book clubs read it. I put a copy out in my Little Free library on the very first day it was open for business. I cannot emphasize how much I think every woman should read this book.

However, I’d be remiss in saying that half of the people who read it hated it.

Books are food for the soul. Some are light and airy, like lemon meringue pie. Others only seem shallow, but wind up being dense and thick, like brownies cooked with spinach or bread made with zucchini. Some are appetizers, others desserts. Many books are a meaty, loaded down with carbs and gravy, dates and details, so that when you finally finish, your brain is thick and sluggish.

The Post-Birthday World is a five-course meal. The first chapter is the amuse bouche – it sets the ground work for the entire story. Irina is in love with Lawrence, her fine, upstanding, somewhat boring partner of ten years. One night, she finds herself at dinner with Ramsey Acton, the rakish, dashing, snooker player. At the end of the night she has to make a choice – does she kiss him or not?
The rest of the book proceeds in alternating chapters. In one set, she kisses him. In the other set, she doesn’t. What is fantastic is how small decisions reap large changes and how perception is so different than reality. Choice is a common subject in my house and I’m always telling the kids to make good choices. But, really, what is a good choice? Which choice of Irina’s was the “right” one?

The first time I read this book, I thought one way. On this, my second reading, I feel completely different. I could talk about this book for hours and I will admit that I have thought about it frequently over the years. To me, this is a perfect book. The alternating chapters are like enjoying a tasting menu at a five-star restaurant. Each one is perfectly balanced against the one before it and the one next to it, but each could stand easily on its own. There is however, no sweet ending. This book eschews the traditional dessert course and goes for the cheese plate with multiple textures and smells.

The language is lush. The author is a master of simile and metaphor. You don’t skip sentences in this book; you allow them to wash over you word by word. There are no misspent words here, careless commas, or unnecessary asides. Every word has a purpose. It is really just a fantastic rendering of what could be and what was. 

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