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Book 23 Completed

April 10, 2010

Look, when I was a teenager, I went through an existential-phase. That’s the funny thing about existentialism: It’s so perfect for self-absorbed teenagers. But let’s be fair — I also went through Transcendentalism loving time period as well. Where I wrote all over my junior English binder: SUCK THE MARROW OUT OF LIFE. And then I thought “Dead Poet’s Society” was my favorite movie and I’d sit around brooding about how much more enlightened I was than my parents. 

Existentialism came after that — senior year. And while I can’t remember writing anything on my binder, I do remember waxing philosophical with my friends about atheistic vs. theistic existentialism, true angst (which is laughable in hindsight…) and if there is anything more unobtainable than sincerity. 

So, I should have read The Stranger then. 

That is not to say that I did not enjoy Camuing it now (see earlier post). I find the book fascinating, well-written, and emotionally draining. This book on the surface seems simple — both in premise and in craft. However, Camus must have painstakingly written each word, sentence, and paragraph with the deliberateness of a brain surgeon. How else can you create a character so devoid of emotion and make him equally insightful and calm? Yes, the character of Meursault kills an Arab man on the beach for no reason — just pulls a gun, shoots him. And during his subsequent jail time and trial, we (the readers) feel sorry for him. It’s a circus — it’s a man’s life — and yet the balance between the recognizable traits of this world and the dreamlike qualities of another world is brilliant. 

The novella is full of side stories and reflections. It’s in those moments that I found myself the most affected. Especially the stuff about Meursault’s elderly neighbor and his dog — I get the love-hate relationship — I found the image of an older man getting a puppy and feeding it with a bottle, but then sharing in that dog’s old age, a real reminder of how our love for those in our lives changes as we age. And Marie’s unfaltering support for a man who doesn’t truly care about her in any meaningful way, is haunting. He goes through the motions, she holds on anyway. I get that too.

Yes, Camus was dealing with the absurd, but as with most stories in that genre, there is enough there to recognize in our own existence that it makes it a bit uneasy. That is, of course, the point. And this short, slender tome has the impact of a sledge-hammer when it’s finished. 

At any rate, I think it’s worth reading. It’s absolutely worth thinking about. But it is definitely a book you read that makes you think — it’s not a summer beach read. Who knows, maybe if you’re reading it on the beach, it will get too hot…and then you’ll want to go shoot someone.

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