SIGH. Fine, Lionel. You are brilliant. The Post-Birthday World is amazing in concept, in story arc, and on the level of the writing. It is a perfect storm of literary excellence and if I sound a little depressed I blame you, and I think that was sort of intentional too.
Okso. Irina and Lawrence go for dinner with their friends Jude and Ramsey every year on Ramsey’s birthday, and then one year Jude and Ramsey have split and Lawrence is out of town but he goads Irina into going for the birthday dinner with Ramsey alone *ominous but very sexy violins* and they HIT IT OFF and go back to his place so he can teach her to play snooker *more violins* and they have an eye-locking moment and then she kisses him but also she does not kiss him. It is the Schrodinger’s cat of kisses.
Because the chapter ends at the eye-locking moment and in Chapter Two she barely beats Lawrence back to their flat, still wearing yesterday’s clothes, but in the chapter after that which is also Chapter Two she wakes up in her own flat congratulating herself on having dodged an infidelity. And the stories wherein she did or did not kiss him run parallel from there.
And there’s a queer repetition of phrases and events in the doubled chapters that give you the uncanny sense of having been here before. Parts of it are almost unbearably sad. There’s nothing more depressing than what might have been, and this is a double-whammy of that. Shriver has a creepy way of getting to the deep, craggy bits and it’s not always flattering.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a lot of sex. And not just actual boinking, but thinking about sex, and talking about sex, and very carefully not talking about sex. Do not give to children, despite the festive cover.
The grating and pretentious writing I made fun of seems to have been localized to We Need to Talk About Kevin (which title I get MORE IRKED with every time I type it out) because the wordsmithery here is almost painfully beautiful. I think I’m a little resentful, to be honest, because apparently Shriver can make me feel however she wants me to feel, and most of what she wants me to feel is Bad. Or, at least, two-for-two on that score.
I know! This is not encouraging. Post-Birthday was a surprisngly enjoyable read for all that it dragged me through the doldrums and there is a message of hope that I can see clearly from where I sit, I just can’t touch it right now. For real, nine caterpillars.