Before I start my review of Lisa Alther’s triumphant debut novel, let me put on a list of novels with the same theme together with their publication date and some commentaries.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. (1973)
Kinflicks by Lisa Alther. (1975)
The World According to Garp by John Irving. (1978)
Parachutes and Kisses by Erica Jong. (1984)
I have come up with the list for the sole purpose of pointing and clarifying some things about these books because each entry –if you’ve read them all— will make you associate one from the other. Not that I accuse some particular writer of copying some ideas from others work.
Kinflicks is a funny, insightful, perceptive, sad, and a moving read. It presents some of the most original wisdom about life and death in fiction. If John Irving’s Garp is obsessed with the safety of his own family, and having the realization of no way to protect them from the harsh reality, irony and madness of life, Kinflicks talks about and illustrates how cruel, unfair and unpredictable life is.
From the start of the novel, it gives me the sense that I am once again to read a novel from my favorite author, John Irving. I am about to praise the novel as a female-Garp, however, learning of its publication that Kinflicks precedes Garp, I suddenly dropped the idea. Garp is much powerful in its entirety that I also wouldn’t dare calling Garp the male-Ginny. I might also call Alther as an informative writer, and her fascination with encyclopedias’ is obvious in which it is a good thing with the unavailability of the internet at the time.
Kinflicks tells the story of of a 27 year-old heroine named Virginia ‘Ginny’ Babcock. The novel is separated in two parts; the first is narrated in Ginny’s point of view in the past while the alternating chapters are narrated in third-person. Ginny’s voice talks about her coming-of-age journey, her struggles to take hold of her future, and desperately tries to join in everything that comes her way. These parts –Ginny’s submissions— may somehow irritate the reader, but in my opinion, I understand her actions for I got to see the part where she’s trying to live a life without the influenced of her parents while unconsciously trying to shape things around her with the prejudices and bias she learns from her family. Her adventures remind me of Erica Jong’s heroine, Isadora Wing from her novel Fear of Flying. The feeling to take control on things without shame, to grasp without reluctance and to decide without being guilty afterwards. To stand about your choices no matter the consequences. Ginny’s past and Isadora on ‘Fear’ are both narrated by the heroine.
On the other hand, the part where it is narrated in third-person which talks of the present makes me remember another of Jong’s novel, Parachutes and Kisses –also narrated in third-person’s point of view— being the third novel and continuing Isadora’s adventure and finally her being a mother. Just like Isadora, Ginny is now in the stage of motherhood or struggling to be. In Jong’s novel in which spirituality and death plays a big part; Ginny comes home to take care of her sick mother. Ending with the understanding of their actions from the past and though they might not admit it, a final act of understanding and acceptance for their deeper selves. I’m also not blind by the fact that some might notice Ginny as lacking in character, that she doesn’t learn something grand in the end. However, I find this to be interesting, and since Ginny is still trying to live her life (again) in the end, there is a possibility that someday she is more than just a lost soul. I just hope the author writes a sequel about her.
I don’t really know what’s happening to my reading list, it is as if it is lined after my own life. Having suffered some recent tragedy makes my vision while reading be crystallized with tears, and moments unknown to me, I’d suddenly stomped my feet like a hammer on the arm rest for no apparent reason while tears continuously flows down my cheeks, not that I want to stop myself from crying but I guess to bring back what was lost. There are times at the end I want to hurl away the novel for making me cry like a baby.
I’ve given the novel a higher rating but before doing it, I’ve pondered on some questions why I should. I’ll try to ask you those. Will you give a novel a higher rating that makes you remember something depressing? Makes you cry because you can relate into it? A novel which makes you sad? I’ve tried not to answer those because if I do, this will be poorly rated.
I just consider of how wonderfully written it is, how the author manages to construct it beautifully, how the author’s ability to make it believable and how she carefully illustrates the many guises of life. And finally, convincing the reader how life, though we may not all accept it, is harsh and cruel than reality.
It is hard to tell what it’s really all about and narrating of some of its superlatives may not give justice on how a good story Kinflicks is. You just have to read it, but be careful.
Opening Sentence: My family always has been into death.
Ending Sentence: She left the cabin, to go where she had no idea.