Saturday, July 07, 2007

Evening by Susan Minot

I decided to read Evening after seeing the previews for the movie. I’m so glad I read it before watching the movie because the movie was phenomenally disappointing, whereas the book was beautiful.

The book tells the story of Ann’s last days. Much of the story is Ann’s morphine induced rambling, one memory blurring into the next. “I will always, I will never.” The words of every argument, every promise, every broken heart. Once I was involved in the story, I found these passages to be the most poignant element of the story. At the end of one’s life, this is all these days become: fragments, simple phrases that merge into the next, one moment indistinguishable from another, with a few bright, crystalline exceptions.

For Ann, the exception was the weekend of her best friend’s wedding, an event more significant than the three weddings of her own that she would later have.

While the movie is simple and predictable, the book is raw and complicated. During Ann’s final days, she reflects on the idea that when she’s gone, all her memories will go with her. She tries to make some sense of her life, looking around at her many possessions and realizes that she isn’t the things she owned, that her children will not carry on her true essence. All the things that made her who she is exist inside of her and will soon be gone. She had three husbands and gave birth to five children. She endured abuse and loss, she had big houses and pretty things.

She arrives at the conclusion that if life has high and low points, then her highest point happened when she was 25, the weekend of her Lila's wedding. Everything after that was less. Ann got married and had children, over and over again, because it seemed like the thing to do. She submitted to men who would take care of her and adore her, but she always kept her heart to herself, never loving her husbands, never feeling close to her children. And during her last moments all she could think of was the man she believed she fell in love with during the weekend of her friend’s wedding.

But the reader is aware of things Ann doesn’t know, revealing that the love she felt for Harris was one sided. He had no intention of their relationship lasting beyond the weekend. He belonged to another. Ann was beautiful and vibrant, this is clear not only from Harris’ attraction but also the subsequent men who insisted on having her. Harris wanted to have sex with her. He wasn’t different from any other man. But he never planned to spend his life with her.

To Ann though, Harris represented a time in her life when she was happy and hopeful. A time when she was a young woman living in New York City and still believed that she would be a successful singer. I don’t think Ann honestly regarded him as her one true love but after a life of failed loves, she looked back on her time with him as holding potential that was never fulfilled, like so much of her life. She was happy in his arms and she never felt that kind of happiness again. The morning after her last night with Harris, her world fell apart because of a tragedy. Innocence lost. He was the last good thing before everything became real and horrible.

I enjoyed this book because it served as a reflection of a time in which women felt they had few options. They weren’t supposed to go out on their own. They were supposed to get married and have babies. Ann did what was expected of her, and she never lived the life she wanted to have.

And when the evening of her life fell upon her, she saw the brightest, happiest moments of her life. It's a story about regret and guilt and the agony of wondering what might have been.

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