Thu Sep 3 2009

I created a new category for this book, Books You May Not Want to Read, because a) I did finish this book, and b) you may not want to read it.

Back when I lived in Cambridge above the Harvard Book Store, it wasn’t unusual for me to read a review in the New York Times, head down the elevator to the store to buy the book, and be back upstairs reading it on the couch within half an hour. Now, thanks to the Miracle of the Internet, I can do pretty much the same thing-- as long as I want a digital copy of the book. So with respect to rich content delivery, the old days were definitely better.

There were times, of course, when I’d start my newly acquired book only to realize the review was much better than book. And of course, that keeps happening even now. But once in a while, there’s a book review that entices me to read the book, and the book turns out to be exactly as advertised and not at all what I expected.

I read the review of Wetlands, by “controversial” German writer Charlotte Roche, in Salon. Titled “The dirty girl,” and sporting a blurb that mentions bodily functions, among other things, how could I resist? (The title of the review, I’m guessing, was meant to echo the title of a German movie, The Nasty Girl, which was about another controversial German woman.)

I can’t do better than to borrow Nina Power’s summary from the Salon review:

Set in a hospital, it follows the thoughts and strange encounters of 18-year-old Helen Memel, the victim of an unfortunate attempt at intimate shaving.

The bulk of the Salon review deals with the reception of the book in Germany, the controversy it engendered, where it fits into feminist thought. All very good stuff: entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking.

Since I no longer live above one of the very best book stores in the world, and since my diminished circumstances make it imprudent for me to purchase books from Amazon or brick ‘n’ mortar stores, I requested it from the Minute Man Library Network, and within days it’s at my favorite library.

The book opens with the sentence: “As far back as I can remember, I’ve had hemorrhoids.” And really, that’s pretty much all I feel comfortable quoting from the book. The entire book takes place in Helen’s hospital room. She describes the incident that led to her hospitalization in great detail; she describes the operation in great detail; and she describes the details of her personal hygiene in great detail. Also, she grows avocado pits in glasses.

I suppose at its core it’s a story about a young woman who feels abandoned by her mother and father looking for love and attention.

And it’s astonishingly repulsive, intriguing, and funny. I liked it, but you shouldn’t read it.