Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tessa's pissed off ... with reason

I take a walk on the mornings that I don't have to be at work, about four miles through my beautiful neighborhood, Irvington. Its beautiful tree-lined streets and varied houses and gardens make for a very pleasant hour, particularly since the weather has been so lovely lately -- yes ... temperate sunny days in November! But this morning on my walk, I was pretty much sobbing the entire time. That's because I was listening to the sixth and final disk of Before I Die. I guess you know how it turned out.

Tessa has terminal leukemia. She lives with her father and younger brother Cal somewhere in England. She's been fighting the cancer since she was 12, but her diagnosis four years later is that everything has been done that can be done. Tessa makes a list of the things she wants to do before she dies. Her list isn't much of a surprise: fall in love, have sex, drive, take drugs. One, I loved in particular: Say yes to everything. Yet despite the ordinariness of Tessa's list, you are on an extraordinary journey with her. Kind of like Thirteen Reasons Why, you know you are headed towards an unhappy end, but you can't stop yourself from reading/listening on.

I've had a very hard two weeks: Dealing with aging parents and the death of a colleague have just about wrung me out. I don't think I would have been nearly as susceptible to Tessa's story at another time, but my state of mind doesn't affect the underlying power of this book. Tessa is angry, she's frightened, she's fragile, she's utterly frustrating to those around her, she's completely mesmerizing. So is the reader, Charlotte Parry -- she's not afraid to voice all of Tessa's emotions.

In an attempt to give myself some distance from this story today I was thinking about listening v. reading. In a book like this -- where you know the outcome is going to be (and you know that it's not going to be good) -- I think audio adds both distance and intimacy to the story. Its paradoxical: the distance is because it's not your voice telling the story; the intimacy stems from the same thing (someone else is whispering her story in your ear). I wonder if it's that paradox that makes for the lasting power of all storytelling ... hmmm.

We are closing ... I've got elections stuff keeping me busy tonight and I want to get this posted before I forget. Perhaps I'll have more to say tomorrow.

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