A good book holds your consciousness hostage. I know when I’ve found one because of the sense of dread that greets me when I reach the last page. Upon finishing one of these books, I repeatedly flip over that last page, making sure there are no extra words or an epilogue that I missed. I reread the last sentence, awarding it greater importance because after all, greater importance was intended.
One such famous concluding line belongs to Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. “We could have had such a good time together,” says Brett. “Yes,” Jake replies. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Reading was once my primary hobby – I read in the car even when it made me sick, at night after my mom told me to go to bed, at baseball games while my brothers ran around the stands chasing batting practice balls. But reading had been relegated to a place of minimal importance until I met Nick, author of the novel Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?. Excited that I knew someone with a published novel, I ordered his book on Amazon and rediscovered my love for words.
I entered the fictional world of my friend’s creation and was immediately entranced by his language. He weaves words together expertly, intermeshing post-modern angst with allusions to literary classics, set against the backdrop of a drug-infested Los Angeles.
The novel’s protagonist, Jake Reed, is conflicted by his past and entirely uncertain about his future. He goes through the motions of his day job while half-heartedly chasing his dreams of being a writer. An influx of money from his deceased grandmother enables his to embark on a journey of discovery. Jake doesn’t make it far from his native Orange County, as the majority of the book takes place in Los Angeles. Readers experience the city in all its contradictions and paradoxes, as both a shiny plaything for the hard-partying crowd and as a gritty, soulless town.
Jake searches desperately for a sense of purpose, for something that will tether him to reality. The only constant in his journey is the books he lugs with him from one temporary home to another. Jake struggles with superficiality of societal norms, with the lack of authenticity and the importance placed on image. In an interior monologue, Jake asks himself: “We must be professional curators of our own identity– so that we always seem shiny and pretty…But why do we laugh in our photos and cry in real life?”
At the outset of the novel, Jake materializes as an everyman, reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway. He becomes swept up in the tide of events swirling around him in each new circumstance, easily impressed upon by the lovers, acquaintances and mentor that he encounters. Only towards the end of the book does Jake come into his own, molded by his experiences and emboldened by the choice he made not to sleepwalk through life.
In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway writes: “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it?” Jake’s quest is driven by an urging that terrifies most of us, regardless of our age: the quiet murmur often relegated to the back of our minds, asking us if we’re really living, or just going through the motions. Jake has the audacity to confront this question head-on, and the journey of self-discovery that ensues speaks to the full spectrum of human experience, from the tragic to the beautiful.
If, like Jake, you’re searching for something, I would recommend this book – you may not find the answers, but you’ll understand how important it is to keep asking the questions.
By Kathleen Toohill