DEAR SJ: My ex just responded after a month of ghosting me. The only thing in the message was “I’m sorry”. What the hell do I do?
— Lonely Larry
Dear Lonely Loser:
Very simple. You may respond in one of two ways.
First option, which is What I (and 11 out of 10 psychotherapists) Recommend, is this: absolutely nothing. Why should you? Were you waiting for an apology? If so, you didn’t get it.
What you got was a passive-aggressive manipulation tactic to get you to respond with For what? Thereby re-engaging with the enemy, allowing her to draw you in to her web once more. And, like the trapdoor spider, you won’t know what’s hit you until you’re back in her clutches and unable to find your way to freedom unless someone else re-spiked your Kool-Aid with the antidote to the poison she’ll be feeding you about how she made a mistake and you two were meant to be together.
Frankly, shit like this doesn’t happen unless she wants something from you. If you’ve been “ghosted”, that means you’ve been initiating contact with her without receiving expected responses during that whole time. That doesn’t happen between people who respect one another. For one, if she respected you, she would have responded. And for two, if you respected you, you wouldn’t have kept reaching out to her during this ghosting period. You would have taken the hint after the first message went unreplied and stopped, and then when she replied with “I’m sorry,” you could have dropped the New phone, who dis? meme and we’d all have a belly laugh.
Also, if you were waiting for an apology, why? If she’s your ex-girlfriend, then that’s in the past. You don’t want to get with her. You and she had your time together, and now it’s time for both of you to move forward.
Basically, there’s a great line that says, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
There’s great advice about life, love, relationships, career, how to live a good life, finances, career decisions, even spiritual dilemmas.
Frankly, I think this should be within reach of every single porcelain throne, nightstand, and above the Gideon Bible in every North American hotel room. But since I don’t quite have the capital to make that happen, I’ll just go with this instead.
I would LOVE for you all to head over, pick up a copy, and leave a review.
So, you know how I’ve been writing extremely bad advice over on my Patreon page? Well, what better way to celebrate over 100 nuggets of pure wisdom inflicted on this modern world than to give back by making them even more accessible?
Targeting November 25 (Black Friday) for release, as this is, in my mind, the ultimate gag gift. Don’t believe me? Here’s the pitch:
In Everything Is Your Fault SJ answers public advice questions with straightforward, no-nonsense common-sense answers that everyone absolutely should follow. But, since basically everybody except him is a raging dimwit, he also stoops to that level and panders to those who just want their preconceived ideas validated.
Great for gag gifts, Yankee Swap, or just to get back at that self-righteous sister who always thinks she’s better than you, Everything Is Your Fault will be a staple in your trash pile faster than you can say “adoofussayswhat”.
note – this was originally published on the Trailhead Conference blog, which has since gone bye-bye. I subsequently published it on an also-bye-bye Medium.com page (link for teh googlez).
May, 2014. Interior, downtown Indianapolis branch of a large national bank. One personal banker seated across from me in a standard bank chair. One person, me, seated in my standard bank chair, listening to her speak.
The personal banker was, at best 26 years old. She had no clue what was happening in my life. She had no idea what had been transpiring the last six months, or the last six years. And because of that ignorance, what she said next devastated me.
She put her hands together, index fingers and thumbs touching, as if she were about to play a quick rhythm on a small drum. “So,” she said, and as she started to separate her hands (like Moses parting a bowl of soup), the next five words destroyed my life as I knew it and launched me full-blown into my “mid-life crisis”.
I have stated for the record my opinion that the term mid-life crisis is inappropriate, but since it’s still a fairly common term I’m going to continue to use it here. Plus we have the pejorative expectation that if you’re going through your mid-life crisis, that this is some kind of failure of your character. That you are somehow weak because you can’t stand up to the demands of life, and you’re seeking an easy way out.
Well, let me tell you, my mid-life crisis was certainly not a failure of my character. I don’t think anyone who saw me go through that would have said I was weak. That I had failed. That I had given up and was looking for a shortcut or a way out.
No, what happened to me was, essentially, a combination of multiple storms all hitting within a six-month period. And, to be honest, only one of those could be considered my fault.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Your mid-life crisis happens to you, it does not happen because of you. Most often this is a period of searching, of introspection, of exploration, and usually they’re set off by some inciting incident. Mine lasted about two years, kicked off by four different major events all coming together in a pretty short time frame.
Within six months: my car died on the highway; my faith died in the pew; my career died in the cubicle; and my marriage died in a nursing home. I only noticed this was happening, though, when that personal banker spoke five short, simple words.
Before I tell you what those words were…
Allow me to back up a little. I think it’s important you know some of what was going on at the time.
In the fall of 2013 I was 36 years old.
I’d been married for 14 years, and my wife and I had four children. I had a stable job at an insurance company, a reasonable group of friends at church, and some neighbors who knew a bit of what we were going through.
One cold Thursday evening in November, on the way home from work, I was driving down I-70 out of Indianapolis. My 1999 Toyota Corolla was flowing along like normal when, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. I managed to avoid getting squished by the passing 18-wheelers and get it off to the side of the road, and then to a gas station, through a clever system of keeping my foot on the accelerator just enough to keep the engine on, but not so much that I sped up and needed to hit the brakes, because every time I did that it stalled out again.
Five hours later, after a tow truck wait and a phone call to my mother-in-law to ask for an emergency run to take care of my kids, I got home with my never-to-run-again vehicle. For some guys, this could be the thing that starts them questioning, “Hey, what’s going on here?”
One of them might take a few days, decide that the repair would be worth more than the car, and just junk it. When he comes back from the dealership with an impractical new sports car, all the neighbors look at him funny. Classic symptom of the mid-life crisis, and the associated judgment, because all they see is indulgence.
What he was thinking, though, could have been just about anything. From “I’ve never had something that’s just for me” to “It’s my last chance before I have to get another minivan,” his thoughts could have been anywhere. Too bad we often judge those who are in the middle of this so quickly.
For me, it wasn’t that momentous on its own. But a flood was building, a silent accumulation of nature’s power that soon I would be unable to ignore. The car, though, was just the start. Strike one.
A couple of months later, around February of 2014,
I realized I wasn’t enjoying my work any longer. Sure, I was productive, as I needed to be. But I was also spending excessive amounts of time browsing the internet at work, doing side projects that made it “look” like I was working, and just getting the minimum done. I guess, since everyone essentially knew my home situation, they gave me some slack.
Yet as I looked to the future, I could see that my heart just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t imagine pushing spreadsheets and databases for the next 30 years. It wasn’t in me to just keep doing a job for that long, and then retire to say, “Now what?”
It would be another year before I actually quit, but that intervening time I was actually dead in the office, just walking around and doing enough to not get fired. Strike two.
A few weeks after that, all of my spiritual questions began to come to a head. I’d been dealing with these issues for nearly a year, ever since God made a promise that did not come true, and I finally could not accept the absolutism, the short-sightedness, the irrationality, and the hypocrisy of my church any longer.
It’s not like there were any big scandals. (Those are often inciting incidents in and of themselves.) It was just that I started to see that for many of the congregants, their professed faith and their actions did not jive.
I saw countless instances of prayer for “a miracle” healing for someone who, frankly, would have been better off dead. And if, as they said they believed, that the home of the soul was in Heaven, why in Hell would they be striving so hard to keep such a soul imprisoned in this sinful, cursed, pained body? It didn’t make sense. That, and dozens of other questions and concerns came together to make me finally say, “You know, I don’t know whether there really is a God or not.”
When I could finally call myself an agnostic, that signified the death of my faith.
Unfortunately, I was so oblivious to it all that I didn’t yet see the writing on the wall. I ignored the incredible tidal wave of change looming, and I continued to push on harder and harder in the things I was doing, to make it seem like I was “okay”.
Finally, in May of 2014, the dam burst.
That young, naïve personal banker put her hands together and spread them apart. “So,” she said, and that was all right. Nothing wrong with that. “If you’re separating your finances…”
And the bell tolled for my marriage.
One more flashback may be in order.
In March of 2013, my wife was admitted to a rehabilitation facility, in order to supplement the stem cell treatment she’d recently received in India. She was having neurological degeneration, causing balance problems, emotional problems, and keeping her from caring for herself. We had spent two months in India for the treatment, and had been home for a month with little progress. The thought was, go live in the rehab facility and get help daily, to get back on track.
Eight months later, without any progress to show for the time, it was necessary to have her admitted to Medicaid, so we didn’t have to exhaust my financial resources to pay for her care.
After admission, the State of Indiana gives you 6 months to get the Medicaid recipient’s name off of all the accounts. Which I did, leading to me in a Bank of America office downtown Indianapolis. I explained the situation, and what I was doing, and how I needed new accounts that were just me and not joint accounts any longer. She said, “So, if you’re separating your finances-” and I didn’t hear a word after that.
I didn’t cry, then, but that was the moment that I lost my marriage. It was at that point that I realized we were separated. As much as I’d tried to fight it, as much as I’d denied the fact that we hadn’t had any kind of relationship for over a year, my marriage was done. We were separated, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and, now, financially. My marriage had died in that nursing home, and I had only just realized it while sitting in a bank.
Four momentous, life-changing, potentially tragic events
that, yeah, reasonably would make one stand up and ask, “What in the world am I doing here? What does this mean for me? Where do I go? How do I move forward, when everything that I used to know just keeps changing on me?”
With all of those things coming at me, who’s to say that I was weak? That I was a poor judge of character? That I was at fault for any of that? Perhaps you can perhaps blame the religion thing on me. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith. But isn’t that just a demonstration of actual faith, that it’s not something imparted upon a soul, but it is an actual article of belief, that you choose to believe or not? And if I was finding more information that contradicted my original belief, do I not owe it to myself to at least consider that maybe my beliefs are wrong, and that I would do well to reconsider?
So… that’s how I came to my mid-life crisis. My journey out from that bottom took about two years. Lots of introspection. Lots of crying in the car, questioning and yelling and singing silly songs because I just didn’t know what else to do. Lots of long walks by myself, talking to myself, talking to the voices in my head, talking to the geese on the side of the path. Did those things make me weak? Did those things make me a bad person?
And they are not for any other person who’s going through similar, or even very different, circumstances. There’s a real good reason why, even without major inciting incidents, that a mid-life crisis happens to good people, even if your car is still running and your faith is still flowing and your job is still reasonable and your marriage is still intact.
For the rest of us? Those who had some big “F you” from the universe that kicked us out of our comfort zones? We know better. We know we were actually doing a lot. We know we were sometimes doing much, much more than those who looked down their noses at us for being weak or self-indulgent. We know that we knew better than they did just what, exactly, was going on inside our own heads. And our results afterwards showed.
Experience. Transformation. Growth. We did these things and we came out of our mid-life crises set up for great things in the future.
It turns out this post was not about my mid-life crisis at all.
I’ve said that mine was all four of those things falling apart all at once, but, really, it’s probably more the two years that came after that were the crisis itself. Those events were just instigators.
And the straw that broke the camel’s back was, after all, really simple. Just 5 little words: “If you’re separatingyour finances.”
Be careful with your words, friends. You never know when they’ll have the power to change lives.
I don’t have space here for a full discussion of all that went on in my head (and in my house) over those subsequent months, but I probably will write about that in the future. For now, though, I just have a couple of take-aways.
For someone going through it right now: Keep going. You are the only one who knows everything that’s going on. And, yeah, it probably feels like you’re inadequate to the task, and that you are an impostor, and that you really just wish everyone else would shut up about it and let you get on with your life. You’re right. They should. But they’re probably not going to, so you’ll just continue on faking it, hoping to outlast the crisis as it blows itself out. You can do it.
And for those who are watching someone go through it, whether that be a family member, friend, or co-worker: Cut them a little slack, please. Let’s not pretend like you have any clue what’s going on inside that head, or inside their house, or inside their church, or inside their body. Let’s also stop with the hollow attempts at encouragements like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through! You must be so strong!” You’re right, you can’t imagine it. And I, while I’m in it, don’t feel that strong. I mostly feel like a fake, and if I really let down my guard and showed you the terrible thoughts inside my head, I imagine you’d run away screaming.
So let’s stop with the empty gestures, huh? Just be real, and give people some space and time to explore. You might not like where they’re going, but, hey, you don’t have to live their lives.
You should see an elephant. Floppy ears, tusks, and a trunk.
But take a moment, and shift your perspective just a little bit, and it’s a whole different image.
That’s the power of perspective. You don’t always see the whole of a piece of art, or a situation, or an experience, from your position when you first encounter it. Sometimes, you need to look at it from a new angle.
Consider that challenge that’s bugging you. Maybe it’s your teenage son and his friends; you don’t understand why they go out of their way to avoid you, when just a few months ago he seemed like such a good kid. Or perhaps it’s an issue at your church. You know the Elders believe they’re doing the right thing with this new building expansion “to attract new seekers”, but you and almost everyone else thinks it’s foolish when there are greater priorities, like missionaries in the field.
Why don’t you speak up? Is it because you don’t believe strongly enough in the mission, the same way they do? Or is it something deeper than that? Might there be something you’re missing? If you knew more, would you support that decision? Maybe.
How do you get that missing perspective?
David C. Baker has an interesting analogy in The Business of Expertise. He describes a little human inside a jar. When you’re in the jar (whether that jar is your business problem, your relationship, your extra-curricular time, or your personal mindfulness journey), you cannot read the label on the jar. You just can’t. You’re behind the label, and you’re stuck.
So, what do you do? How do you get out of the jar?
You have to shift the conversation. You have to stop talking about the problem that’s the surface, and you have to start asking some more substantial, deeper questions. Like, “Well, yes, my business is struggling. Does that mean I need more advertising? Or more staff? Or a new product? Or does it mean I need something more fundamental, like a re-set of my whole business philosophy? What am I trying to say with this business, anyway? And does it even matter if I’m here to do it?”
These are deeper, more fundamental questions. They’re the underneath of the iceberg. They don’t get viewed by the general public, but in answering these questions – in thinking through these lines – you will start to take the steps to get yourself out of the jar, and moving towards a position where you can look back and read the label for yourself.
Let me give you another analogy, and let’s get a little abstract. Suppose you are an arrow, that’s on a flight path. Now, you can choose to fly in whichever direction you want, and you’ve decided to fly directly at whatever targets you’re trying to hit. To keep the analogy clear, let’s assume these targets are another set of arrows, which represent the best options for your life, in lots of different areas. They are all coming at you, directly, and you’ve got to hit something, anything, to make an impact.
What’s likely to happen? Are you going to hit them? Any of them? Or, is it more likely that you’ll just miss? Whiff completely?
You, and these best options, aren’t likely to hit. You’re not likely to get to the point where you meet whatever you’re shooting at, because you’re shooting at too small a target. I think there’s a movie or two where the arrows or bullets actually hit each other head on, but it’s such a slim chance, that it doesn’t really make much sense to rely on that as your strategy.
What if, though, you change your perspective?
What if, instead of facing the problem head-on, you got to the side? You approach it from the outside, from a perpendicular direction? What if, instead of having only one little point of contact which you could have the slightest chance of hitting, you turned it around? What if you came at it from the other way?
Instead of aiming directly at the oncoming problems, why not get out of the way, off to the side? Now, you’re traveling “up”, and the arrows coming at you are still going to the left. This time, though, you’re much, much more likely to actually hit what you’re aiming at! Look at how easy it is to intersect with all of those different things you want! Plus, now you have options. You can pursue one, or many, solutions in your time, rather than crying that they’ve all passed you by.
Allow me to share an anecdote. I recently talked with an old friend, and told her about this Trailhead Conference – how it’s a place for people to explore something new, to see problems from a different perspective, to understand something they didn’t know before. [note – the Trailhead Conference was planned for 2019, didn’t happen, isn’t planned for any time again – SJ]
And she related a story of her other friend, who had been struggling to lose weight for years. Diets, exercise, sleep, nothing worked. She kept the weight on, kept fighting, kept failing. Kept feeling like a failure, when, really, she was fighting the wrong battle. Eventually, though, she figured out the problem and lost the weight.
So how did she do it? Liposuction? Juice cleanse? Personal trainer? CrossFit?
Nope. Nope. Nope. And nope.
All of those were solutions to the wrong problem.
All of those assumed that the issue was caloric intake (too much) or expenditure (not enough), or metabolic cycling (irregular), or routine (need to “shock” the system), or something else.
All of those were actually trying to combat the symptoms – the tip of the iceberg – when, really, something needed to be done at a much deeper level, under the surface. Down inside, where the pictures aren’t so pretty and so visible.
So – what was it? What was the thing that finally flipped the switch and helped her to lose 30 pounds?
What was that radically different thing she did?
She got divorced.
Now, I don’t know all the details. But there were significant forces at work, including emotional abuse, that led to weight retention. And it makes sense. The surface issue was excess weight and feeling bad because of it. The deeper, substantive problem was that there were problems in her relationship – maybe her finances, and spirituality too. Cognitive dissonance between what she wanted (a better relationship) and what she felt obligated to do (remain married due to religious tradition) led to feelings of inadequacy.
This showed up as weight retention, a physical issue, when, really, the solution was going to be an emotional one. Solve the relationship problem, and the weight loss happens naturally. So when her husband asked for the divorce, despite how much she didn’t really want to be divorced, she relented.
During the separation, she bought a new place and worked extra hard to renovate it. Additional activity, the right kind of activity, combined with the emotional freedom to be herself, led to her losing 4 dress sizes and showing up at the divorce proceedings looking like a new person. Which she, for all intents and purposes, was.
So I have to get divorced?
I am absolutely not counseling or advising anyone to get divorced, or to get liposuction, or to go on a three-week spiritual retreat to Namibia to “find yourself”. I don’t know that those are the solution to your problem.
I am, however, pointing out that often, what we think is the problem, really isn’t.
We’re aiming at the oncoming arrows, trying to hit sharp little points, when, instead we should step to the side and look at the problem from a different perspective.
We’re struggling, but we don’t know exactly why.
And that’s okay.
It really is.
It’s okay not to have all the answers.
It’s okay to question.
It’s okay to get intrigued and to explore something new for a while.
It’s okay to walk down that side road for a bit, learn that you don’t want to keep going, and change your mind.
You know, we have erasers on our pencils for a reason.
And we have a [DELETE] key on our keyboards, too, for the very same reason. I’ve used mine a hundred times in this post so far, and that’s okay. That simply means I’m open to considering new things, trying them out, and seeing what works. What doesn’t, goes away, and nobody is worse off.
Let’s not be afraid to try something new, and, if it works out, great! If not, let’s also not beat ourselves up about it.
That trying something new is how you get perspective. And perspective is, often, the only way out of your jar.
footnote – this post was originally written and published in June of 2019, when I was organizing a mid-life exploration conference. It ultimate didn’t happen, but if the web crawlers find this content and that content and try to ding me for stealing, this paragraph is proof that I didn’t. I (Stephan) actually wrote and published that same content before, just on a different platform. So there.
It’s been a little while since I was back here. A minute – two – ten – an hour. It’s been half a day, a whole day, three. It’s been a week – a fortnight – a cycle – a month. It’s been a season, a year, a decade. It’s been a generation, a century, an era, a millennium, an epoch. It’s been a while.
How have you been? Wait – don’t answer that. You know I ‘m not serious. I don’t really care how you have been, I’m only using that question to initiate your reciprocating action, in which you will ask me how I’ve been, which will allow me to unload on you, to brag about myself and my children and my spouse, to complain about my boss and my children and my spouse, to monopolize the conversation and to take it in the direction I want and to steer it towards your admiration of me for how strong I’ve been, for how amazing I am for how terrible all that has happened to me has been.
One thing I will definitely not do, rest assured, is take any blame for what has transpired. Oh, don’t you fret, none of this is my fault. It absolutely does not reflect poor judgment, rash decision-making, short-sightedness, willful naivete, or blind ambition at the price of my integrity. Perish the thought! What would ever give you such an idea? Forget it, that. Let’s continue to harp on the fact that nobody else really understand me, not the way you do, friend. Not the way you can make me feel better about myself, not the way that you have been a person to always support me, encourage me, never one to judge, never one to dissuade me from anything, never hard or harsh, cruel, or realistic, and to me that might have short-circuited some of the self-destruction.
No, it is not the only kind of rational thinking that I get from you, friend, but just the opposite. I come seeking solace – a balm for my emotional wounds. I know that you are good for it. I know you are not one to undermine this relationship with anything like truth, so I have once again, as past times, come back to you for my refreshment, my rejuvenation, my resetting of my emotional counter back to “fresh” and “happy” again, a resetting which I know you will be all too happy to provide, for I can see that you too find value in such codependency.
You feel needed, and that makes you feel valued, so regardless of the very one-way flow of energy that this vampiric bond survives on, me sucking from you, never giving, never sustaining, regardless of how little I can offer in terms of a [illegible] or even respect, I know you will continue to pursue your part just as I will continue to pursue mine.
So, friend, what do you say? Got any of the good stuff for me? Sure, it’s been a while, but I know you’re good for it. You can’t have forgotten how to make me feel better already, have you?
Another one “borrowed” from Dear Abby. Thanks for doing the research for me, love!
Dear SJ: I’m a man in my mid-30s. For the past couple of years I’ve been in love with my best friend. She doesn’t know how I feel, and I know she doesn’t feel the same way about me. (She calls me the brother she always wanted.) I try hard to fight these feelings os our friendship can continue. She has been a huge part of my life, so losing her friendship would be devastating.
To make maters more difficult, we are currently roommates and spend lots of time together. My heart breaks when she goes on dates or talks a bout guys she may be interested in. I know she’Lloyd never see me as more than a friend. Is there any way I can get over these feelings so we can continue this amazing friendship? – FRIEND ZONE IN VERMONT
Dear FRIEND ZONE,
Seems pretty obvious to me. Your best friend / girlfriend is an incestuous freak. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not for everyone. But when someone talks about you as “the brother she always wanted”, that’s code for “I wanna bang my whole family.” Plus, why do you think she agreed to live with you? She’s been trying to grease the skids this whole time.
You see, there’s a big body of scientific literature that says exactly this: boys want to kill their fathers and replace them between their mother’s legs. It’s called the Oedipus Complex. It’s what drives so much of human evolution. “It was good enough for Dad, it should be good enough for me!” The parallel for women is the Electra Complex, which, my best guess is, has something to do with wiring your nipples to a car battery. Sounds like your friend has taken this to the logical extreme… if sons want to bang Mommy, then daughters want to bang Daddy. Since “society” says she can’t do that, she’s acting out in the nearest substitute possible: you.
She’s grooming you to be Dad’s replacement. It starts out as a surrogate brother, and once she’s got you hooked on that mental mind-warp she’ll start imagining her father’s face on your body when you’re doing it. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the inside of her mind when that happens. I’ve been there, it’s not pretty.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that she’s really interested in these other guys she’s talking about our dating. Those are just a ploy to make you jealous – to make you see her as desirable – to incite you to finally “man up” and make your move. Let’s be honest: there’s never in history been a male / female couple that is just really good friends without both of them wanting to bone. And it’s not anybody’s fault; that’s just how we’re wired as a species.
So, what’s your move? Forget about “getting over the feelings”. You and I both know that’s not going to happen. Instead, you need to step up and step out. Tell her exactly what you feel. If you need help writing the script, it should sound something like this:
“Hey, Roomie, let’s be more than roommates. You know your lady-bits tingle when I walk in the room, ‘cause I feel the same way. My Tower of Power gets all electrified just thinking about you. Those other guys? They ain’t got nothin’ on me. Remember last month when you ‘accidentally’ walked in on me in the shower? Yeah, I ‘forgot’ to lock the door, and you somehow ‘didn’t remember’ that I take a shower every day at exactly that same time. Let’s not kid ourselves any more. We should do this, ‘cause, feelings, and stuff. What do you say?” Trust me, it’ll work out great. Soon you’ll be banging like a screen door in a hurricane and everyone wins.
And because I’m a good guy, I’ll even give you a Plan B. If she does happen to reject you (even though my analysis is on point like 98% of the time), and you really do want to forget all about your feelings, try this. Hit yourself in the head with a hammer. If you can remember, afterwards, why you hit yourself, do it again. Repeat as necessary. Toodle-ooo!
In my experience, there are two major kinds of sci-fi stories to be told. One is an action story. Think Battlefield Earth, Princess of Mars, or Dune. The driving force is the things that happen, the rising tension, potential sabotage, the question of whether or not the protagonist will finally defeat the big bad bugs with their own laser guns or go down in a blaze of glory.
The other kind is a thinking story. Examples here are Speaker for the Dead, or even Frankenstein. In these kinds of books, there isn’t so much action driving the reader on, it’s an intellectual understanding, an investigation into the human condition viewed through an external lens. As such, it may offer elements of introspection that action stories cannot, and should not be asked about.
The Book of Strange New Things falls into the second category. In this story, Michel Faber has transplanted a naïve, if well-intentioned, Christian minister named Peter from some generic English Presbytery to the far-off planet of Oasis. While there, Peter is to be the chaplain to two groups of individuals: the residents of the USIC base on Oasis, and the native Oasans themselves.
This is not an action story. It is a story about relationships: Peter’s relationship with USIC: a for-profit company doing whatever it can to salvage an investment, thus their recruitment of Peter. The relationship between USIC and the Oasans: who is dependent on whom in this situation? Who profits? And at what cost or at what critical threshold? Peter’s relationship to the Oasans, who view him as, not necessarily a savior, but as someone who can finally help them understand the Book of Strange New Things, which, strangely enough to Peter, is the Bible, because, news flash! They already had a chaplain before, and where is he now?
This is a story about Peter’s relationship with his left-behind wife, Beatrice. It is a story about one-dimensional relationships, about one-dimensional communications, about censorship and the internal mental gymnastics we go through (but never actually reveal) when communicating with people we care for. Or don’t.
This is a story about Peter’s relationship with God, or his image of God, or his ideal of God. Peter is a broken man – by his own admission, he comes from a hard life, of drugs, of sex, of lawbreaking. But God cleaned him up, saved him, gave him purpose and a wife and a church, and now God has given him a mission, so he will, by golly, do everything he can for that mission, even if it means he must sacrifice his own self and his prior commitments, and rationality be buggered.
To be honest, I didn’t quite know where this book was going most of the time. A lot remains undefined, like what USIC stands for, how the Oasis environment would have allowed the ecosystem to develop, or even things often described in sci-fi like the “first contact” experience and subsequent information transfer. Many of these are just taken for granted, and, while I suppose the author thinks they aren’t critical to the story, I found myself just confused at times.
In terms of style, I will admit that the initial impression I got was of a very nice, very safe style. Something warm and comforting. You know how you read a book and you often have a narrator in your head, a voice that you hear reading the words to you? [If you don’t, just play along.] For the first 2/3 of this book, I could not hear anything but Winnie the Pooh reading to me. For some reason the tone just struck me as unassuming, a reserved “Oh bother” type of narration. It did change a bit near the latter part, but perhaps that was because I had experienced enough of Peter to start to hear the narrator in a more masculine voice.
Anyway – I’ll give this book 4 of 5 stars. Interesting ideas, good for a read now, one that I didn’t want to stop reading and stayed up late to finish, but not something I’ll read again or buy to have on my bookshelf. Read if you wish; I’d love to have a discussion.