The Book of Why
covers a tricky subject regarding death. The tone of the novel is meant to be hopeful—describing a man’s struggles as he attempts to come terms with his wife’s death. However, I don’t feel that the author entirely succeeds in achieving this tone. There are various moments in the novel—situations that trigger memories and ideas that are introduced but left incomplete—which are rather shocking, not just for what is stated, but for the implications of what is said.
In the beginning of the novel and at the end, Montemarano plays and hints at certain ideas surrounding a character to whom his narrator dedicates this novel: a future twenty-seven year old Gloria Foster. The author plays it safe by not formally stating the narrator’s future intentions and hopes regarding Gloria; it’s up to the reader to determine what might happen next. Yet, the implication surrounding these future hopes can be read in both a positive and negative light. As a reader, I don’t think that this is a subject that should have been left open-ended, especially given the fact that the Gloria Foster who physically appears in the novel is only a young child. I honestly don’t believe Montemarano intended for such a reading to be made, but it is a subject that could be misconstrued by a reader.
The ambiguities surrounding this particular subject, paired with the strange situations that trigger the narrator’s memories—e.g. his compulsive fascination with lav-related bodily functions and how the act of watching his dog relieve itself congers up a cherished memory of his dead wife—leave the reader feeling shocked, confined and at times, utterly bewildered. Likewise as a reader, I felt trapped by the narrator’s voice, as if I was in a tunnel listening to the narration bouncing off the walls. This feeling of confinement is only emphasized by the narrator’s use of repetition, both of words and phrases, which is especially prevalent at the end of the book. The reading experience was truly oppressive, and I can’t say that I’ve ever really come across narration like this to such an extent before.
The thoughts expressed in this novel are meant to be positive, a kind of personal learning experience for how one begins to cope with loss and loneliness. But as a twenty-seven year old myself, if I happened to be the twenty-seven year old to whom the narrator dedicates this book, I can’t honestly say that my feelings for the narrator would be entirely sympathetic in nature, solely based upon what was written. On the whole, The Book of Why
is a novel that seemingly fails to achieve its positive intentions. It is a novel that turns a tricky subject about death into something lurid through implication.