Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Bed by David Whitehouse

BedBed is a story of a family where the older son, the eccentric Mal, decides at 25 to never again get out of bed because he is disappointed with the idea of the conventional life of job, mortgage and family. Mal's brother is the narrator and he goes back and forth in flashes telling anecdotes of his own and Mal's childhood, youth and adulthood that led up to the last few days of the present, when it was finally time for the morbidly obese Mal to leave the house, two decades after he entered it that last time.

This was definitely a book unlike anything I've read before. I didn't particularly like it, but it made me think about things that don't usually occupy my mind and that gives it value outside of the realm of pure entertainment. Whitehouse has a gift of witty and to the point observations that make you understand exactly what was going on and how everybody involved felt, or mainly how Mal's brother felt. Sometimes after reading a paragraph I couldn't help but silently exclaim "Exactly! That's exactly how it is!" because his characters, who are definitely the highlight of the book, are very ordinary people with simple lives and what happens to them can and often has happened to any one of us at some point. His descriptions don't shy away from anything and his writing style is almost journal-like.
I keep referring to Mal's brother as "Mal's brother" because we never find out what his name is and that gave me some of that food for thought I was referring to earlier. On one hand how often do we talk about our lives and address ourselves by our first name? On the other hand, why doesn't anyone else ever address him by his first name? Another thing I couldn't help but think about was whether Mal was selfish in making himself the focus of his family in such an unusual way or whether he was the glue that kept this family that would've fallen apart otherwise together? Did he destroy their lives or did he give their lives meaning, like he said he wanted to do in the beginning of the book? And last but not least this book made me think about love and how it can be destructive with the best of intentions, when all one wants to do is make the other person happy but hurts them in the end.
The reason I didn't especially like this story lies in that as clever as Mr. Whitehouse is too often the book feels like a bunch of one-liners put together and called a novel. The "present" chapters felt tedious and with every meticulous description of Mal and his fat and how their mother cared for him I couldn't help but feel slightly nauseated, wanting to find out more about the past instead of focusing on the present that didn't seem to go anywhere. Another reason for my lukewarm opinion of this book is that I didn't really understand what happened to Mal in the end. I'm all for endings that aren't all cut and dried but there was just too much left unsaid in this book.
Risking a spoiler here but I was glad that in the end everything turned out well for the characters. I wouldn't want to spend any more time with them than I did though, they were all just too messed up. Then again, aren't we all messed up in our own ways?

Book received courtesy of Simon & Schuster GalleyGrab program.

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