Which is to say, you can read my review and celebratory (and self-serving) riffs on "This Story Will Change by Elizabeth Crane & Book of Extraordinary Tragedies by Joe Meno" here and / or you may also read some excerpt below. Please most definitely read both these books as well, because they will most definitely change your life.
"Do we all want something better for ourselves, which feels like as good a question to ask oneself as any at this time of year?
"Okay, maybe that isn’t something everyone wants.
"How about, do I want better?
"I supposed that depends on how you define better.
"I’m thinking about this after reading the following line from one-time Chicago author Elizabeth Crane’s new memoir, This Story Will Change:
"I want this to be a story about everything just being better. (page 216)
"In This Story Will Change, Crane explores the disintegration of her 15-year marriage. It's a marvel in terms of self-reflection, transparency, and per capita pain per sentence. Which could be overwhelming at times, but for a key fact, or maybe two key facts: despite the profound sadness and bewilderment permeating the work, it's still in Crane's distinctive voice, featuring her humor and dexterous word play, as well as her ability to cut through any excess verbiage to focus on the details that make life so preposterous and worth living all at once.
"In the first chapter alone, titled "Forever," Crane talks about her wedding and says:
"If anyone thought, Oh this is terrible idea, they forever held their peace. Many of them spoke as the spirit moved them to share why they celebrated this love... But who knows, maybe someone did hold their peace. Maybe they could ask. They would have to ask everyone. They've lost touch with some of them. Sometimes on purpose. Which is not a thing you want to have to say about people who were at your wedding. (page 3)
"This riff continues, because that's what Crane does, she pursues ideas until everything feels absurd, and yes, funny, but sometimes sad as hell too, which is life—funny, absurd and sometimes sad as hell.
"Joe Meno does something similar with Book of Extraordinary Tragedies. He writes of a South Side Chicago family of Eastern European descent that is full of damage—hearing loss, poverty, cancer, sick mothers and lost fathers—who are really just holding on for much of the book, yet full of love, curiosity and desire as well. As he always does, Meno brings a lot of sadness, a lot of humor, and something magical to all pages. The characters are rich, and their quirks are all so real, because in Meno’s hands they're not quirks, they're normal things. We may not all compose music in our heads as the protagonist Aleks does, but we all spend too much time in our heads—we’re all damaged, by family, life, and our bodies and minds abandoning us—and we're all obsessively composing something."