I got angry this summer.
And here's the thing: I got angry at someone in particular—the wonderful novelist Allegra Goodman—which is something I had no real right to do. She's going about her business, trying to write books, tell stories, do her best in a difficult world, as we all do. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I got angry at her book, The Chalk Artist.
I've enjoyed Goodman's writing for a long time. The excellent The Family Markowitz, Intuition, The Cookbook Collector—all intriguing and interesting, each in its own way. And when I saw that she had written a novel—one about a video game–addicted kid no less, something I have a powerful personal interest in—I happily threw it into my bag (after paying for it, don't worry) along with a slew of other books to bring with me on vacation. I held off from starting it even, like it was dessert.
And, probably, I hoped for some insight into video game addiction. I didn't exactly formulate this thought to myself ahead of reading. And I will freely admit this is an unreasonable wish, expectation and hope. Truly, I know it is.
Instead—and be warned that spoilers will abound from now on—I got insight into what literary people wish were true about video gamers. Long, lyrical passages of description about the world of the game, as though that's what gamers care about. Budding romances and elusive girls—ditto. And then, the stick-in-my-craw most wishful thinking part of all: he is cured by poetry. And not just reading poetry, no. A poetry-reciting competition is apparently just that much more enticing than playing immersive video games 24/7.
See, I think this is a lie. All of it. The idea that love of video games is about falling into their narratives, that a glimpse of a girl player would be interesting—none of these were true. And this romantic, wishful lie broke my heart. Because the wishful dishonesty made me realize that I had hoped for not only a great (or good, I'll take good) book, but also a clear vision into another human being. And all I got was a view into what someone wishes were true. I know what I wish were true, but art isn't supposed to show that, or if it does, it has to know when it's speaking the truth, and when it isn't. So I'm angry—I'm still angry. I left the book on the shelf in the vacation house we rented next to a fishing guide.
None of this is fair or reasonable, right? And yet, here we are.