Hurry Down Sunshine - I Just Don't Like Michael Greenberg

I'm not sure how to navigate this one - I didn't like the author and narrative voice, Michael Greenberg.

I didn't like him because he hit his girlfriend, Pat.

I didn't like him because he felt the need to propels this story to quasi-literary heights through allusions to such writers as James Joyce, who blamed himself for his daughter, Lucia's, mental illness.

I didn't like that the entire book wasn't at all about his poor daughter, 15 year old Sally, who one day fell into the void of manic depression and stayed there for an entire summer. No, it was about how he, Michael, reacted to the situation. How it impacted him. It details his efforts to understand her by taking her anti-psychotic medication to understand why she felt "packed in rubber." It's about his relationship to his mentally ill brother who harbours a long-standing grudge against him for being their mother's favorite.

It's about his landlord and friend - a failed writer and top notch mooch - oh and a cast of other crazy characters like a Hasidic Jew whose family believes his incessant praying and clearly troubled state is a sign of communion with God.

But, what about Sally? What about her? Who is she? She's been slow to learn at school, prone to outbursts and compulsive behavior. She's had problems for a while, only a crisis delivers her to the treatment she needs. We don't get a detailed sense of who she's been and what her life has been like.

Michael Greenberg wanted to write about the experience of a parent who's child falls away completely to a place where he cannot reach her or help her. His suffering, his devotion to her, his desire to understand, these are all real. But, the book is also about Sally and in a way she is strangely absent from this narrative.

Hurry Down Sunshine/ HarperCollins / 2008, HC (PB forthcoming this summer)


Luanne said...

You know - I heard nothing but òh what a great book`when this first released. I don`t think I want to read it . He hit his girlfriend and documented it. Great. Hope she callled the cops.

Joanne said...

I picked this one up expecting a fantastic read .. but it was a fight to finish. I too hated the narrative voice. And the bits with the Hasidic Jew could have been utterly fascinating if they weren't told in such a "trying to make this seem like great literary symbolism" way. I dunno, it just felt as though he were writing down to his readers, if you know what I mean.

Diane said...

I started this book some time ago, and was turned off by this guy.

AndrewL said...

While I agree with you to an extent, I still have the same feeling I had when I was reading this novel last year: it must be very difficult to write about someone who has turned into someone you cannot understand or even recognize. I think he did very well in managing to write as much about her as he did, any more and I suspect I would have thought him overly didactic. It's not up to him to write about her feelings too much, that would be something for her to write. I also got the impression he was trying to respect her privacy to an extent - maybe he COULD'VE focused on her a bit more, but he felt it inappropriate.
I wonder if this is a man/woman thing (as I notice I'm the single male dissenter).

B.Kienapple said...

Hello Andrew, thanks for stopping by! I think part of my problem was that I wanted the book to be narrated by the daughter and not him and that's a trap I shouldn't fall into - wanting a book to be something it's not. However, I felt like Greenberg's portrayal felt too involved with 'story' and not enough with feeling. It felt like a fictionalized memoir and while I thought that worked with A Million Little Pieces, it felt unreal here. It was too bent on being literary and I thought that did Sally a disservice.
Thanks all for your discussion here! Love to see it.


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