Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Season of Reading - The Reader

The first book we tackled for our newly established book club (we are on our third book right now) was called, appropiately enough, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink.  Controversial in nature, this book revolves around an affair between a young boy and an older woman.  I like the Google review's phrasing that stated, "both a literary surprise and a moral challenge."  You find yourself appalled, yet you continue to read, because generally speaking it is a relationship most of us are not only familiar with but are also completely baffled by.
The first half of the book I hated, if I am completely honest, but as you see where the author is taking you, and you let them take you there, you begin to find the value in the first half.  Written from the boys perspective, you see how this choice to be with a much older woman early in his life effects his entire life, down to every relationship and every emotion.  There are moments where you feel sorry for him, because although he knew it was not a natural relationship nor was it what others would have encoruaged or approved of, she brought value to his life in a distinctive way.  However, you also find that she really digs into his psyche and sets the tone for all his relationships.  Healthy, normal relationships no longer feel healthy or normal to him after these encounters.  It really is a painful story.
The book leads to later in his life when he encounters her again in a different setting and he remembers it all so vividly, yet he has blocked it all out.  He has gone to law school married and ultimately lived a full life, but continues to feel nothing.  He just exists.   However, I was thrilled to have stuck it out until the end, because we saw some resolution come from his story and his life of loving her.  While things seem to fall apart to others, he was never present with them to begin with.  He just doesn't care for anything that way that he cared for her.  I do not agree with his lifestyle, but I think it is well presented in this book.  I think he could have overcome and been a better man, but he did not choose to do that.  It is really a fascinating story of an effected child's sub conscious. 
I guess I would have to say I would recommend this book to someone who could handle it, although it absolutely set the tone for the book club.  It opened my eyes to a book I may never have read otherwise, and there was value in what the author taught.  However, I was depressed and ultimately saddened when it reached its final pages. 
What I did learn through this story was that people need God.  They cannot use their own strength to recover, and I think this book shows human sadness and ambivolence at its harshest.  I pray that anyone who reads this does not validate the relationship, but sees the danger and destruction in it all.

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