Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chang and Eng, by Darin Strauss

Yesterday I told my friend Tessa that life is too short to read anything you don't thoroughly enjoy. Then I went back to slogging my way through this book, which I have been failing to enjoy lo these many months.

Sometimes I'm just sure I'm going to love a book, either because I've heard good things about it or, as in this case, I have really liked other books by the same author. But of course tastes vary, and liking an author doesn't mean liking all of his work. Still, this was so hard to give up on! The premise is pretty fascinating; it's the fictional memoir of one of the original Siamese twins. The writing is good, the story is promising, but I just didn't like it.

Chang, the narrator, is a complete misanthrope. And the person he dislikes the most? His conjoined twin, Eng. I can relate to his desire to be alone; I am pretty reclusive myself. His total disconnection from every other human being, however, became oppressive. That and his sense of utter superiority. Could one really spend every single moment inches away from another human and feel nothing but contempt for him? This seems unlikely to me. If true, I can  not bear to read about it, and would much prefer to sweep it under the rug of ignorance.

As long as I'm complaining, I will note one other problem I had with this book. The twins were connected by some sort of ligament, referred to here as a band. Although many other details of scenery and physical countenance in the novel conjured up vivid images, I just can't manage to picture this bond. Or band. Or ligament. Or... something. Google returns nothing useful; there were a few pictures taken of the twins, but none that show how they were attached. The band is mentioned often, and this lack of a visual representation drove me crazy.

I loved Darin Strauss' memoir, Half a Life, and look forward to reading his other books. And I'm glad I didn't spend another minute trying to like this one. Life is, after all, too short to spend reading anything you don't thoroughly enjoy.

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