Saturday, April 12, 2014

You're Not You

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of You're Not You (Thomas Dunne, 2006).

I was thinking, as I read Michelle Wildgen's debut novel You're Not You, that any movie version simply couldn't quite have the same power as the novel, because one of the principal characters can only speak in a whisper. She's in her late thirties, wheelchair-bound and nearly paralyzed from ALS, and barely able to talk anymore. I bet lots of actors would relish such a challenge, but doubted any production company would want to have a major part in a movie for somebody who couldn't move and who the other characters would have to translate for other players in all her scenes. Then I finished the book and read that a film adaptation has already wrapped, with Hilary Swank, no stranger to really challenging roles, as the doomed Kate. Well, never mind me. Good casting, that.

Emmy Rossum has been cast as the other lead, a junior at the University of Wisconsin who's been drifting through life and beer and an ill-advised affair with a married man, and takes a job as a part-time caretaker for Kate. She sort of knows going in that this job won't last for very long, and even if she's brilliant with her work, it will likely close within a couple of years with Kate's death. But just because Kate hasn't much time left doesn't mean that her life won't be full of upheavals and heartbreak and cooking. Lots of cooking. This book will make you very hungry.

The sensory experience of this book can be overwhelming. Wildgen, whose new novel Bread & Butter is on my to-read list, just packs in the smells and the tastes and the touches of everything. It's very frank and honest about Kate's desire for the flavors of food and for sex and for company and for trips to the farmers' market. It's also frank about Bec's paycheck-to-paycheck existence and her fun with friends. I was left more than a little cold by Bec's parents, who seem too by-the-plot antagonistic to be real people, but the rest of the book was warm and welcoming and every inevitable, telegraphed plot beat, from the theft of Bec's car stereo to Kate's death, still hurt like the devil when they came. Recommended.

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