by Madison Killen
Novels are great. I love them. I love reading them in the bath, on the subway, while eating some cheese–anywhere, anytime. After I’ve read a novel that I’ve enjoyed, I talk about it as if I’m blabbering about a friend of mine whom I admire. Those novels are on a mental list of mine.
Some novels, however, are on a different dossier of mine, one that would more likely be filled with ex-boyfriends than friends. I’ve read a few novels recently that have had profound effects on me, effects that I’m still not sure if I appreciate or not. The first was Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and the second was Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I enjoyed these novels immensely while I was reading them–Oh, the language! The wit! The charm! —but when I finished them, I started thinking more and more about their implications, and I started to feel off. Both of the books truly opened my eyes to the possibility of a meaningless existence. Sure, I’d contemplated it before, and I might even have nodded in indifferent agreement with one of my more obnoxiously ardent atheist friends, but something–not faith, I’ve never been very religious either–had always dissipated that unreal fear before it spread too much. It was like a bad breakup. But I loved you! I devotedly read you every single day for a week! I couldn’t get enough of you…I was insatiable! Could I love a novel that had so emotionally abused me?
The day I finished White Teeth, I boarded a plane in Washington DC to San Francisco. I spent the entire five hours in a pessimistic daze. That was it, I had determined within a mere ten minutes that life was most likely meaningless. It just sucks that I’m so young and I’m figuring this out now! Maybe if I had avoided reading that book I wouldn’t have picked up on it yet… It didn’t help that the person sitting next to me was at least five hundred years old and drooling on me–would I have to live the rest of my life with the onerous burden of having this knowledge?
That plane ride was basically the break up. Luckily, like in a real break up, every day I got a little better. It took me about two weeks until I could say I was finally over the book. Now, looking back, I appreciate the book for what it did for me. It was a great relationship, and it changed me. I’m not exactly sure how, but I appreciate the experience.