Is Intensity the Same as Love?

I think it’s almost funny how unmoved I was by this book, like a stone woman.

Reading a book in one sitting is usually best for me.  I cried over Of Mice and Men after a strong afternoon of migrant workers and big-pawed Lennie.  I tend to spend tea time with Alice Monroe on my porch and drink up the sun, the words, the seep.  Then there is, of course, Hunger Games in a weekend where I ate only strawberries.  Gasped through New Moon at a disney resort where the poolside bartender gave us drinks without seeing our IDs, “all you need girls, is your room key.”  I usually have favorable outcomes with books that I spend a day with.  It’s almost like a day trip, we’ve driven this far, my feet are making toe prints on the windshield glass and the air in the pine trees make the words whisper.

The Book in Question

And then the New York Times reviewed the book.  Elissa Schappell wrote the review in the Times that makes me feel like I no can longer wear the stiff garter of the feminist.  She discusses the metaphor of “Soviet women as the human workhouses they were.”  I suppose I was wrong when I thought they lived in castles.  The things I know about Russia can be counted on two hands: ballet, ice skating, mail-order brides, no more American adoptions, Chernobyl, WWII, winter, Russian sables, and the ideal of blondeness.  Forgive me, any Russian readers, I desperately need an education.  It’s as if they leave the wholeness of the country out of our school books, as Americans.  At first, I thought this was the very reason that I didn’t really “get” the book.  I thought I was lost because my Russian history wasn’t fine-tuned.  I’ve never even traveled to Europe, never worn fur in the winters, I barely wear gloves.

The closest I came to Russia was when my high school best friend taught me to say I love you by squeezing my hand before we went to bed.  She would squeeze three times to say she loved me, and I would squeeze back four, tight compact squeezes where the lines in our palms pressed together and made our wrinkles into latitude and longitude.  She was taught to do this by a Russian girl that stayed with her family over the summer.  They would each have their eyelashes closed to their cheek, be secretly under the covers in matching pajamas and twin pillow cases and find each other’s hands.  I learned to say “I love you” silently from a little Russian girl.

“Father Frost and stepdaughter” by Ivan Bilibin

Schappell told me that Petrushevskaya’s American break out is a form of “scary fairy tales” and my only references to this are Grimm and Sexton.  Schappell mentions the Russian greats and compares Petrushevskaya to Chekov which I missed entirely in the reading of her book.   My favorite line from the Times Review though is, “For these women, telling their stories is as necessary as having someone to care for. They tell stories, while waiting in endless lines for bread and trains and promotions that will never come, to feel less lonely. As Joan Didion said, ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live.'”

This is the exact reason why I didn’t adore this book.  I gave it 2 stars.  I couldn’t even write a review of the book on this blog until I spoke to the women I admire about what they thought on goodreads:

Alena gave it 2.5 stars, a sister to my 2 stars.  You can visit Alena’s fabulous book (and other interesting things) blog here.  I trust very few people to give me book recommendations and she is ALWAYS a go-to gal.

Alena's goodreads review.

Alena’s goodreads review.

And then Claire gave voice to the women smoking in the cafe telling these stories.  You can read Claire’s amazing blog here.  I highly recommend her book blog because she always says just the right thing to make you really analyze a book, or think about what you’ve just read in a new way.  I adore her blog and get the email updates every time she posts.  I will admit though, I am a poor commenter.

The discussion between Claire and I.

The discussion between Claire and I.

More discussing.

More discussing.

Claire's perfectly poignant comments.

Claire’s perfectly poignant comments.

Darkness & love

With all that said, do what you must with this book.  This is the wonderful thing about books, they cause you to explain yourself and they give different gifts to each reader.  I wonder sometimes if loving a book depends on the time you come to a book, or when the book finds you.  This book may have rooted if I was a different age, lived in a different time or place, found myself on a train in Japan half-reading and half watching the silent woman with untied boots three seats away.

Either way, somewhere in an off-write bedroom a women is in love with her sister’s husband and every time, every single time, of the twenty-seven times that they’ve encountered each other’s bodies, he silently removes his wedding ring while she adjusts her eyes to the dark.

25 thoughts on “Is Intensity the Same as Love?

  1. Brianna Soloski says:

    To answer your question, intensity and love are not the same thing. I have never experienced real, unconditional love. I have experienced unconditional intensity, which leaves you curled up in a ball in your best friend’s spare bedroom, wondering why you’re alive. But not love. Love is something that comes after years of patience and growth and learning.

  2. Bea Mannes says:

    I loved this blog. It was so thoughtful and thought provoking. I enjoyed the conversation between you and Claire about the book. Perhaps the book was very good, more than 2 stars, because it made you reach out to others for conversation and clarity.
    Great job!

  3. The Other Watson says:

    Great post! :)
    It’s funny actually that you mention how sometimes loving a book might depend on when you come to that book – I was just having this discussion with someone minutes ago. I love Catch-22, it’s my favourite ever book and had a profound effect on me and my reading and writing habits. But she just finished it, and although she liked it didn’t see why so many people are obsessed with it. But as I said to her, I think for me it was partly because of timing – I desperately needed to read a strong book to re-inspire me, and help me find my way back to being a writer (something I always knew I was as a child but forgot in my adult years for a while). It is interesting, and I love that even people who think similarly to us can have such different opinions on books from time to time.
    Very thought provoking post! :)

  4. alenaslife says:

    Thanks for inlcuding me Cassie. I completely agree about Claire’s blog which always impressed me even when we disagree about a book, which we did in this case. And I love that we all approached this book from different places and, therefore, took different things away.
    I’m working on a “Short Stories” post and I’ll be linking back here, OK?

    • Cassie says:

      Can’t wait to read your post and you’re wonderful. I would include you and Claire in every post if u could. It gives the book a roundness that I couldn’t do on my own.

  5. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    Timing has much to do with how we come to a book I am sure, I know my reading of this particular collection was profoundly influenced by other stories I have heard, stories that required me to suspend judgement and try and find/make some kind of sense of it all.

    I’m not sure that I’m there yet with understanding it all, I just keep thinking about evolution and cause and effect and wondering if karma has anything to do with – it certainly leaves us with many more questions than answers – and of course all this has nothing to do with style, language or voice, but if it provokes a good discussion, then that certainly has merit in my book.

    Thanks for the link Cassie :)


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