Reviewed by Christine-Chioma
It's about: Emotionally unsettled Mona Gray falls into a job teaching math at an elementary school. Her experiences with the precocious students and an unconventional science teacher, cause her to recall the genesis of her neuroses. When Mona was ten her father became very ill. Her reaction to his illness was to pick up a habit of knocking on wood (hoping it would make him better), eating soap, and to quit everything she loved--except math and numbers.
I thought: This is one of my favorite books! It's one of the few I've read more than five times (but it's a really quick read). I've actually been afraid to read other works by Bender because I love it so much. I love everything about it. I love how you get absorbed into Mona's world and her idiosyncrasies. I love all the fables in the story (the number doctor, the woman who wrote out all the numbers from one to a million, the math teacher that flys off to Paraguay to become a revolutionary). I love the surreal mood to the novel. I even love the lack of quotation marks (even though I usually hate that in books). It is superbly written. It is poetic and quirky. It's easy for writing like this to feel strained (example: No One Belongs Here More Than You) but I found it delightful and always on par. It even makes math seem magical! I never felt too heavy while reading it although it deals with serious issues such as sickness, death, intimacy, and strained family relationships.
I was surprised they made a movie adaptation because it's not a book that makes you think "wow they should make a movie out of this." But I saw the film entitled An Invisible Sign and was happy about how well done it was. It's very different from the novel but worth checking out--if only for the actress who plays young Mona.
Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!
Reading Recommendations: If your style is nitty gritty realistic novels this one is not for you. Most of it isn't very realistic, but I don't think it's trying to be.
"There was an unspoken curiosity in the town about dying--it was sort of like going on a trip to an exotic place no one had ever been before, and just having to stay there for good."
"She was the kind who noted birthdays down in her little book with the vigor of someone who has often been forgotten."
"After the third time, when we were just starting to get the hang of it, I came home one morning to my new empty apartment; I checked my messages to see if anyone had died while I was out in the world having sex but no one had or at least it wasn't reported so I sat on the couch and kept a knock going on the side table when I thought of how his eyelashes made a simple black rim when he looked down."
"I stood, trembling inside the four small walls, because Lisa was so proud with the truth, she was a billboard and a megaphone, she'd make jewelry of saline and plastic, and I was thickly, fiercely, jealous."
"I wanted to stay home all week. I wanted to stay in bed for the rest of my life, until the mattress fell apart and threw me to the floor."
What I'm reading next: Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson