After two acclaimed story collections, Laura van den Berg brings us Find Me, her highly anticipated debut novel–a gripping, imaginative, darkly funny tale of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world.
I bought this book after reading a review on the Culture section of BBC News. Find Me was listed as one of the best books for 2015 and I was intrigued. Intrigue turned to despair. I struggled to retain any real interest for the main character in the second part of the book and failed to buy into the storyline of her journey after the hospital. I left the book down and picked the book back up and it took my entire focus not to wander after a few pages read…
OK – about the book – Joy is an orphan (her mother left her and that’s a recurring plot in the book as she thinks of the why’s and the how’s of child abandonment. She recollects through the book the foster houses she has been in and the people she had met – a young boy called Marcus who she fell in love with as a brother – and the Psychologist, a young student in one of her foster homes who ran “experiments” on her young nubile brain.
It seems that this hidden trauma made her immune to a virus attack which left the nation grasping at the straws of their sanity as it erased memory after memory after memory, killing the person in the end. It reminded me a little bit of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro where people lose their memories and are struggling to maintain a sense of identity in a world where no such thing exists anymore.
“Is there any greater mystery than the separateness of each person?”
Joy volunteers to be committed in a Hospital in Kansas – where patients like her are to receive treatment and be studied to see what made them unique and immune to the attack of the virus. She has sex regularly here with a guy called Louis until he falls for Paige and abandons Joy yet again (this theme will appear in the book more than once). She is following the news and researching her mother – after she spots her in a TV episode about a marine biologist. OK – the theme is back – lost at sea, Jonah and the whale, the abandonment of God, the shipwrecks which translate into Joy’s life which her mother finds but her mother does not find Joy.
Joy’s life is a bit of a mess before being committed – she drinks cough syrup to dull the edge of her vision and to escape life. She steals from the shop and cannot be trusted. She lives an existence which serves no purpose – and in the hospital it becomes clearer as she has to fill in the empty time between treatments.
I think the Hospital part of the book was the better of the two halves. When the doctor confesses there is no real cure and he is using placebo medicine and trying to trigger the unconscious into healing the conscious mind, she decides to leave.
Joy is now embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.
The ending is confusing. You don’t know whether she was still in the hospital and at times, the people count seems off. She is saying that people are staring at Marcus wearing the bunny mask and they say different statements of why they are afraid of bunny rabbits but when she gets picked up by a trucker, the people count is two – not three. Was she wearing the mask of her friend? Why does she describe him naked at points? Vivid sexual imagination? Is he wearing a mask to represent all male figures in her life? An absent dad and the Psychologist?
The end reveal is not pleasant at all – it’s sad and depressing and makes you realize what a fu^&ed up life she has and why. Her mother leaving her behind to pursue her career is the least of her traumas, as she discovers a dark past, a year where she was subjected to atrocious perversions by a teenager as he was making her focus on whale sounds as he “experimented” with her.
“She will forget all the warnings, because another small part of her is always thinking, What else can you do to me?”
Maybe the whale sounds connected in her mind with her mother. Maybe her mother was never the woman on TV – despite the similarities. It’s a dystopian novel about a post-apocalyptic world, but it’s not on par with “Shatter Me” even though some of the thoughts on paper seem to come from the same tortured, isolated mind of a teenager still in “discovery-mode”.