Top positive review
An Intriguing Read
Reviewed in the United States on November 22, 2019
This book was certainly a challenging read. If you are looking for a quick, easy read, this is not that book (buy it anyway for when you are wanting something with more depth). This book seemed like it was one long run-on sentence and had a non-linear time line and switches between four interrelated characters; despite this or maybe in spite of this, this novel was a must-read in my opinion and tries to help make sense of the country we now find ourselves in.
As I read this book, I have to admit that I wondered how much of it would make sense unless you grew up in Northeast Kansas during the 90s. Likewise, unless you were a Debater or Forensics "nerd" in high school, I wondered how much someone would understand the references to these activities that were discussed throughout the book. Like the author, I grew up in NE Kansas during the 90s (I am ever-so slightly older) and was a frequent visitor to Topeka, so a lot of references were familiar to me. (As a HS Forensics participant, and having had one child (so far) be a Debater, I was very familiar with the numerous Debate and Forensics references). Invariably, we saw protests from Fred Phelps' "church." Most of us, even my ultra-conservative mother, were appalled by the protests, but much like the book states, the objections to Fred Phelps had little to do with the demeaning of the LGBTQ community. While this book touched on a lot of issues, one of the most profound moments of this book for me revolved around the issue of Fred Phelps: Why were the citizens of Topeka (or anywhere) so offended by him when they agreed with him? (Please note: I do not agree with Fred Phelps or his ideologies.)
I never imagined that I would receive parenting insight with this book, but as a mom to two boys, the issue of toxic masculinity is a recurrent concern and is something that weighs on my heart. I do not want my boys to think it is acceptable to treat girls/women as only sex objects (as was my experience growing up in the 90s and even still now, ugh!) nor in any way inferior, yet I do not want them to feel that they are somehow inferior or invalidated because they are male.
And now, I feel compelled to address the, ahem, elephant in the room. This novel tried to provide a backstory for how Donald Trump happened. Yes, I still live in Kansas, but I can assure you there are cities/areas in this "red" state that are liberal (or purple), much like the family portrayed in this novel. (I would argue that we do not have "red" or "blue" states, we have concentrated areas in each state that lean politically one way and they are better defined by rural, urban, suburban.) The subject of Donald Trump and how anyone can support him is certainly a compelling psychological examination, no matter which side you are on. I think this book makes some interesting conclusions that show how some of this absurd current circumstance even became possible. Which brings it back to the conclusion about Fred Phelps: Why are they offended when they agree? Yikes.
So, go find a quiet, comfy space, grab a cup of tea (or coffee), and allot yourself chunk of time to try to read this gem of a book in a single setting (or 2). It's well worth your time.