Going in Circles

After a spell of hit or miss books (mostly misses), I had a terrific week, reading not just one but three that were deeply satisfying, fun, reads that gave me a new perspective. John Scalzi has a feature on his Whatever blog called the Big Idea which talks about what inspired authors to write their most recent books. These posts sometimes send me looking for said books but sadly I'm more likely to forget all about them within the next couple of days. Only a few excite me enough to make me sit down and order them right away, or write them in my notebook so I'll pick them up next time I'm out. A recent Big Idea by Pamela Ribon hit so close to home for me that I put the book, Going in Circles, on my must have list and picked it up as soon as I could. It languished near the top of my to be read pile for a bit and then I grabbed it and fell in love.

Going in Circles is about a woman named Charlotte who is stuck, half in and half out of her marriage, grieving, with no idea whether she and her husband will get back together again. This particular split is more complicated than usual. Her husband left her, came back, then she couldn't take the stress and left him. Now she's in limbo and not only can't move forward, or back, she can’t imagine taking any steps that will help. She finally makes an appointment to see a therapist and comes away with the realization that in her view there is only one right course of action at any time and any wrong choice will leave the world crumbling.

With such a rigid world view it's no wonder she's paralyzed. Enter Francesca, a tiny, Goth coworker, who has enough energy for four and enough passion to help drag Charlotte out of her inertia. Once she finds a chink in Charlotte's "leave me alone and let me wallow" exterior she gets to work, setting tasks and rewards for Charlotte. Some of these are impossible to Charlotte in her current state, like quitting the internet, i.e. no longer stalking her husband's brand new Facebook page, but another that seems impossible turns out to be the most important thing Charlotte does. That thing is roller derby.

Now I didn't know anything about roller derby, beyond that it's loud and bumpy, and if someone had said to me read this book about roller derby I might have smiled politely and never picked up the book. But since I was already invested in the characters and Ms. Ribon's excellent prose I found myself rooting for this unknown sport and its participants, almost against my will. Once I learned a little about it I was enthused. Who wouldn't love a sport that takes athleticism, courage, speed and the ability to keep going when you’re battered and bruised? And of course someone like Charlotte, who can’t bear to think about her circumstances, is going to love it even more than most. It's hard to think about how you've been done wrong when you're completely focused forcing your body to do the improbable.

I loved Going in Circles so much I was a little heartbroken to near the end. I had a two page cycle going on; either laughing or tearing up every couple of pages. The book is deeply funny but I also felt so connected to Charlotte and her pain, whose craziness reminded me of my own when dealing with my losses through the years. (As I said, I never did roller derby but I did suddenly start racing my horse faster and going over much bigger jumps in the wake of a devastating loss in my late 20's.) Ms. Ribon also absolutely nails the pressure that couples are under; both to stay together and to split up – sometimes advice given by friends and coworkers at the same time. Relationships and the ability or desire to sustain them are subjects that we humans love and we can't help sticking our noses in, even when it's clearly none of our business. For instance this week the story of Tipper and Al Gore's marriage ending broke and I actually saw an article in the Washington Post begging the two to stay together. Charlotte has to deal with these kinds of expectations and demands, as well as sort out her complicated feelings about her marriage. Since we've likely all gone through the same thing it's another great way for us as readers to connect to the story and the characters.

You can read Ms. Ribon's Big Idea here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/04/20/the-big-idea-pamela-ribon/. And you can browse inside the novel here at the publisher's website. http://books.simonandschuster.com/Going-in-Circles/Pamela-Ribon/97814165...

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is a little different. @maureenjohnson tweeted a scientific review of Sex and the City two that must be shared. There are three tweets in all: http://twitter.com/maureenjohnson/status/15180090573, http://twitter.com/maureenjohnson/status/15180147118 and http://twitter.com/maureenjohnson/status/15180206073. Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.