Thursday, April 02, 2009

Children of God Go Bowling, by Shannon Olson

Can I cut to the chase? Getting married is not the answer to an unsatisfactory and disorganized life. You cannot expect the Right Person to fall into your lap during therapy sessions. Stop whining, and go live your life.

I was willing to ride along with the semi-autobiographical "Shannon Olson" through the first quarter of the book, because she was funny and irreverent. She is also in her early 30s, works for a web-based company, keeps in close contact with her parents, and has a horrible tiny apartment that is full of crap she never deals with. Of course, her problem is that she is not married. Yeah, that's what she thinks.

The first three quarters of the book is devoted primarily to Shannon and her therapy--individual and group--as she whinges about not being married. Her younger sister is married, with a baby, and "Shannon" has to remind herself that her sister's baby "Is not about me." Although that's how she thinks of it--as proof that she herself is being judged and found wanting. This gets tiring fast. No matter what is going on around her, "Shannon" sees it solely as a judgment on her.

Really, you'd think that at 33 (more or less), she could have a little more perspective on her life. She is living with broken, crappy furniture that was left behind by an ex-boyfriend, who moved to Rome years before and got married. Her apartment is too small, but stuffed full of papers and files and dirty dishes and crap, but she just complains about it. Why do anything about it? Why take a friend's offer to help organize? Why look for a larger apartment? Why get rid of the crappy stuff? She does, EVENTUALLY, but only after she all but gets taken by the hand and given a bigger, nicer place.

Rather too much of the book is devoted to her absolute inability to make any decisions of any kind, and her irritated response to any suggestion that she might want to do so. Rather than looking at her own life, she has fixated on her lack of a husband. As she and her best friend from college, Adam, are the last of their friends to be unmarried, she starts to obsess over whether Adam is really The One. There is no reason for the reader to think he is The One, other than he is still unmarried and hanging around with "Shannon." Even she has to twist herself up to think of him romantically, and when she (finally!) broaches it with him, he declines. Because, guess what? He wasn't The One.

Just about the time she is able to realize she is disappointed and angry about this, Adam is diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live. She is still so angry that she can't see him or talk to him for a long time. Finally, after far too many therapy sessions, she starts visiting him, they talk briefly, and then he dies.

Which is sad, of course, but more importantly, he dies so that "Shannon" can learn something about living life and not just observing, criticizing and bitching about it. She joins a bowling league with a member of her therapy group, meets a nice looking rabbi's son and asks him out. The End.

In theory, this is a book about confronting adulthood, disappointment, religion, death, friendship, and how things change between people as years pass. In actuality, any of that sort of stuff is crammed into the last quarter of the book and given short shrift. Oh, despite obsessing over why Adam might be The One, it never occurred to me that he is Lutheran (a St. Olaf Lutheran who still goes to church, at that) and this might be a conflict for Catholic Shannon. Because why would she ever think about anything as obvious as that?

After Adam's death, she learns from their mutual friend Ellie that Adam had been in love with Ellie since freshman year in college, notwithstanding Ellie's marriage. Why hadn't I seen that, Shannon wails to herself. I can tell you why; because she never paid any attention to anyone else but herself. The book gets weighted down by the complete self-absorption of the protagonist, and her inability to DO anything about her own life.

While a bit of air enters the book with Adam's illness, the focus remains resolutely on "Shannon's" reaction to it, and what lessons she might learn from it. This got to be tedious, and in the end I cannot recommend this book to anybody. At least Bridget Jones was funnier.

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