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Cheaper by the Dozen
Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy I read this because I’d been intending to do so for several years now. I never really knew what it was about, but I had the impression that it was an example of literature that had filtered down to the masses, possibly because it won a prominent prize.

My reaction to this book was fairly neutral. Her writing is lovely, luminous, and evocative. Even though I’ve never been to southern India, where the story is set, it almost seemed as though I could picture it, feel it, and smell it.

The story itself is incredibly melancholy: a pair of siblings, twins, reap the consequences of witnessing a family disaster which leaves everyone alone, lonely, and scarred.

The presentation of the story was what I found difficult to accept. First, Roy uses several writing tools that seem kind of overused and trite to me. First, she capitalizes words to call Special Attention to them. Since this book is written from the perspective of the children, perhaps this makes sense, since children tend to attach Special Attention to particular words and actions. I found it a little bit childish, though, since my friends and I use this device constantly in a tongue-in-cheek way.

Second, I found her tendency to combine two words to be irritating. This doesn’t seem to be an example of portmanteau (spork, smog, etc), however, but rather using this device for more descriptive nouns. For example, in one instance the children describe their great-aunt as having “armfat.” I had to suppose that it’s also a device to underline the fact that the story is narrated from a child’s perspective.

Overall, as I said, the writing is lovely and once I got used to the quirks of her language use (and understood their purpose), I accepted them too.

But the final annoyance was the constant jumping back and forth in time, alternating between the present (when the twins are adults) and the past (when they’re children, and when the disaster happened). I’m not always opposed to alternating between past and present, as it’s usually employed with enough haziness that the reader is kept mostly in the dark about the climax of the story. In this case, however, the author’s excessive use of foreshadowing meant that I had figured out the dimensions of the family disaster when I had read only about a third of the book. Then, it was a matter of simply waiting for the impending doom.

Because of this excessive foreshadowing, the event, when it finally happened, wasn’t a traditional “climax,” since I’d been reading snippets about it throughout the entire book, and had guessed its nature in the first part of the book. Perhaps that was another conscious choice on the author's part, but I felt that it made reading the last two-thirds of the book into a bit of a chore. I mean, if I already knew what was going to happen, why keep reading?

I did think it was worth reading, even if it was just to keep up (catch up?) with cultural trends.