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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, March 6, 2016

An unconventional love story: Preparation for the Next Life

As the blurb notes on the jacket of Atticus Lish's Preparation for the Next Life, this is a "modern love story" - though I would describe it as an unconventional love story, two very needy people in crisis brought together by a chance encounter who stand by each other against great odds. There are times you think it would be better for either, or both, of them - especially Zou Lei - if they were to split, as they threaten to do many times. But they fulfill for each other some strange and hardly articulated need. It would be easy to suspect that Zou Lei stays with Skinner in the hope of marrying him and gaining U.S. citizenship, but she passes on several opportunities to do so - she's the one who is far more cautious and circumspect about marriage, especially in that she is living under a fake name and ID and wonders if the marriage would truly bring her citizenship. She seems to love Skinner and to have something of a savior complex - the more trouble he gets into, the more he threatens her and even harms her, the more hopeless his life course seems to be, the more she stays w/ him. Of course she doesn't have a lot of options, but there do seem to be some opportunities for her to pursue a better job outside of NYC and she turns these down. As to Skinner, he's obviously drawn to Zou Lei for the comfort, the caring, the sexual relationship,  the one bit of stability in this life - but he doesn't seem capable of following her example of hard work and diligence and sacrifice. It's not clear if he has a source of income at all - maybe he's still drawing a paycheck from the Army? I can believe almost anything about the Army, but it does seem rather incredible that the Army denies him treatment for PTSD, saying his mental imbalance was not related to his service. If his isn't, whose is? That seems something Skinner could focus on - and maybe his relationship w/ Zou Lei keeps him from looking at his future, at his next step. In short, it's almost impossible to imagine this relationship successfully enduring, and it feels like we're heading toward some tragic denouement.

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