Book Review: The Man Without a Shadow
ashley | I don’t remember what it was that made me request The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates. I haven’t read anything by her before and the description doesn’t give too much information, but something drew me to this initially and made me request it. I wish I could remember what, because it took me a REALLY long time to get into this.
Oates’ writing style kind of took some getting used to. The repetitiveness and the flow of the words were bit hard to follow and it sort of seemed awkward and rambly. Sometimes it felt as though the reader was suspected of amnesia, for details that we had already come across were repeated again and again. This all adds to the tone and feel of the book, but the whole novel read like a scientific essay or research notes and I just didn’t really enjoy that. Not having read anything else by Oates, I don’t know if this is her unique style or if it’s just this book. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, I found this a pretty focused and difficult read, not at all leisurely or relaxing.
Thankfully somewhere towards the middle things started to find their flow and get a bit more interesting for me. Margot’s interest and affection towards her research subject, E.H., began to grow beyond professional and she started to delve more personally into his life, a life he can’t really remember. She picked the brains of people who knew E.H. before his accident, trying to uncover the mystery of a woman who kept coming up in his drawings and his jilted fiancée. She began fantasizing about being his wife and even going as far as putting rings on their fingers and pretending they were married. Her professional analysis of his situation and how much of what she was seeing was the result of her own fantasy and growing feelings started to blur the lines and made things a bit more complicated and intriguing. And definitely inappropriate and borderline unethical.
There were also some really interesting thoughts about identity and self awareness:
“How do we know who we were, if we don’t know who we are? How do we know who we are, if we don’t know who we were?”
I think these thoughts struck me the most and kind of sum up the entire book and what it is Margot is trying to achieve with her research. And you can tell this is where Oates shines, with these kinds of thoughts and questions. But I can’t quite figure out if this was a story about a respectable professor making groundbreaking discoveries on memory and memory loss by extensive research and experiments on a subject, or if this was about an incredibly lonely woman who becomes obsessed with a man who can’t even remember who she is and basically creates a whole existence and life for them that he isn’t even aware of. I guess it’s actually both and this was kind of, really, messed up! But at the same time, Margot’s affections seemed genuine and it’s kind of heartbreaking at times.
This was definitely an interesting read, very complex and I’m not really sure I grasped the entirety of it. There was a lot of science weighing heavy on the words and as I said, I found it difficult to read and found myself with something a bit more than I was expecting. But a book focused mostly on memory loss and testing that loss, that was an interesting concept and made for a unique read.
january 19, 2016