Monday, October 21, 2013

The Humans: Book Review

The HumansThe Humans by Matt Haig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the notes at the end of this novel, author Matt Haig informs us that he wrote The Humans while "in the grips of a panic disorder." He informs us that through the pain and irrational terror of his illness he came to see that "breakdown is very often breakthrough" and the reading and writing he did during the years of his panic disorder are what led him to become a novelist. Haig says, "I truly believe in the power of fiction to save lives and minds...words and stories provide maps of sorts, ways of finding your way back to yourself."

It is with a mixture of terror, confusion, worldly beauty, love, music, poetry, and wonder that The Humans unfolds. It was an absolute joy to read. An alien visiting earth is certainly not a new theme, but Matt Haig manages to write a story in which the alien and the human are inextricable. In our irrationality, in our strange behaviour, in our odd rules and laws and conventions, and especially in our tendency towards mental breakdown, we humans are alien to ourselves. Our planet is alien. Our families are alien. We know so very little about ourselves and our world and yet we find a way to live our lives in meaningful ways, clinging to the tiny sparks of light in the darkness. This would be a great book to read aloud. There's a rhythm to it that sounds musical, surely influenced by the musical themes that are sprinkled throughout the novel.

A central question is how humans manage to go about their daily lives without being crippled by the knowledge of their own inevitable deaths. Pain and sorrow are unavoidable during the short years each person spends alive. How do we manage to turn the brevity and anguish of our existence into something more? Haig explores these questions through an alien being experiencing humanity for the first time. Of course we are ALL experiencing humanity for the first time. We are all experiencing our one and only life, our one crack at being a human. We're going to screw up. We're going to misinterpret the rules. We're going to misunderstand our fellow humans and hurt the ones we love the most despite our best intentions. Haig holds up a mirror to our flaws and shows us the beauty at the core.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Flashback

Things are beginning to come around again for my little guy. My not so little guy I guess. I now have two sets of pumpkin patch pictures that show me just how much he's grown.


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Pumpkin Patch 2012. Copyright Andrea Paterson.

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Pumpkin Patch 2013. Copyright Andrea Paterson.
And I know that I'm supposed to be a bit weepy about it--about the growing up and the fact that my baby is now a little boy with a will of his own. And I suppose I am a little nostalgic for the days of snuggling my child into a carrier and toting him around to see the world, but mostly I'm just relieved. I'm going to admit it right here and right now: I'm relieved that the baby days are slipping away and I'm relieved that there is an emerging person standing before me who is starting to communicate, who can entertain himself for longer periods of time, who can, quite literally, now stand on  his own two feet to view the world. There are still challenges, don't get me wrong. But I'm getting enough sleep, and I have regained some independence, and I finally feel like I am my own person and he is his own person and we get to stand side by side rather than occupying the same physical space. And good lord am I grateful for that breathing room. I know that the space will keep widening. Next year I'll look at my pumpkin patch pictures and see another version of this face looking back at me and I'll wonder where the time went. It's even possible that the space will one day seem too wide and I will ache for the days when I could scoop my little boy into my arms and cover him with kisses. But for now I am glad to be moving forward in this motherhood journey, to a place where I just might be able to reclaim my sense of self--redefining myself against the light thrown from my son's being. He illuminates my days, sometimes showing me things I wish would stay hidden (my rage for instance, my breaking point), but also revealing unexpected joys. Here is the march of years. Inescapable, visceral, startling. And here I am: altered, stretched, but somehow once again recognizable in the dawn glow of this child.