Thursday, April 22, 2010

PTSD, much?

Current book: Sophie's Choice
Pages read: 84 - 168

To answer a comment question, no, I haven't read this book before. I'll always mention it if I've read them before, since it fundamentally changes the reading experience. I do, however, know the "choice" that the title refers to, just from living in the world. (It's the kind of thing you find out if you pay attention. Nobody thinks about spoilers when it comes to literature. Not that I'm one to talk, what with summarizing dozens of books on here. Anyway.)

Once Stingo gets to know Sophie a bit more, he begins to hear about the story of her life. She's a Christian who was living in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. Her father and husband were taken away and shot for being professors, and she and her mother were left alone. She was eventually arrested for smuggling meat to try to provide for her consumptive mother, and that's how she ended up in Auschwitz. The story's coming piecemeal through various narrative techniques, so there are many more details to come about Sophie's experience in the camps, it's clear, but we know, so far, that she had a relatively easy time of it and was a favored prisoner, and that she had some kind of special status with the camp's commandant, a man named Höss. (Look at that. I went through all the trouble of putting an accent in for you guys, which, as you may have noticed from my tendency to use the phrase "social mores," I usually neglect to do.)

As far as Sophie's life in Brooklyn goes, we know that she works for a chiropractor, and that her transition to American life has been somewhat difficult. She's amazing at picking up languages, and knows German, Polish, Yiddish, and English, and she's really fit in well, but has had some traumatic experiences, too. Her health was poor for a long time after she arrived, due to anemia and other effects of malnutrition, and she's had psychological issues, too. (Because, Jesus Christ, how could you not?) Also, during a blackout on the subway one day, she had a man take advantage of her proximity and the darkness by...well, there's not so much an accepted phrase for this...raping her with his hand. So, that didn't exactly help matters. In the end, though, after depression and illness, she fainted in the library and Nathan was the one who helped her home. Afterward, he took her to several doctors and insisted that she recuperate, and they fell in love. Which brings us to where we are now, with the two of them in this strange, abusive relationship.

As for Stingo, he's coming along on writing his novel, and has also found a girl to date whom he thinks is going to provide him sexual release, as well. His talk about sex is much more tolerable in this section simply because he explains that he's very inexperienced. That, for me, means I'm now able to interpret his lustful vulgarity as indicative of sexual frustration, rather than disrespect for the women he wants to sleep with. Now it feels sort of pathetic and even, almost, cute.

It's still really engrossing. Regardless of the fact that I didn't read yesterday, I'd categorize this as a page-turner. I really want to know what happens from moment to moment, and at the same time I appreciate the depth of the examination Styron's performing on both his characters and the world they live in. It's both superficially and profoundly interesting, which is a rare thing, even in literature.

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