28 February 2012

In My Room: A Dad Scene Book Report

When one becomes a parent, you will find your personality shifting in a variety of ways. Perhaps it will soften you if you weren’t such a cuddly person before; perhaps it will make you more diligent and aware of what goes on around you, if you were more laissez-faire in the past—since anything, at any moment, anywhere in the world could potentially harm your child.

You may become more sensitive to depictions of children in films and TV, something that perhaps you never thought twice about in the past. Your tolerance for children-in-jeopardy plotlines might be severely reduced, or vanish altogether. So far, at least, I hadn’t found this to be the case. It's easy to watch brave little children suffer nobly through traumatic, tragic injuries or illnesses—perhaps even terminal ones—on shows like Grey’s Anatomy. Perhaps I’d seen behind the curtain so much as to be inured, after all it was just a child actor collecting a paycheck, not an actual child being felled by an exotic disease.

But for the first time, recently, this changed. I actually encountered something that affected me profoundly, exactly because I was a parent. There's a book I read that I probably would’ve found emotionally affecting if I’d read it any time before I was a parent, but that practically punched me in the stomach, repeatedly, reading it as a father.

The book is called Room by Emma Donoghue. So I’m a little behind the curve on this one, as it was published in 2010 and I’m only getting to it now. Which means, most people who will read it, probably have already done so. (It also reminds me of a hilarious blog idea that a co-worker had, in which she would review old movies as if they were brand-new and unfamiliar to everyone—based on her having never seen Pulp Fiction: I don’t know who this Quentin Tarantino guy is, but this movie is pretty awesome . . . )

It’s a difficult book to talk about without giving away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, it’s all there in the title. It is narrated by a five year-old boy who, when we meet him, is living along with his Ma in a single room that is approximately 11 feet by 11 feet. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not by choice, that they are captives in this confined space. I will say the book is not as, let’s say suffocating, as one might imagine. What’s really of note is the writing itself. As I said, it is entirely narrated by the five year-old boy, which is a fascinating storytelling device. Seeing the world (or Room) through his eyes is compelling, as is his often bewildered reaction to the behavior of grown-ups—much as I’m sure it is for most kids.

As I read, I alternated between wanting to put the book down for good and being completely unable to do so. It is a gripping page-turner with a protagonist you can’t get out of your head. It also made me want to repeatedly check that my son was still sleeping soundly in his room and wanting desperately to wake him just to give him a hug. The book is disturbing and unsettling and made me realize that I really am a parent; that is who I am now. And always will be.

In fact, I’m going to stop writing now and go hug the Doozer again. Until he makes me stop.

Next time in Dad Scene Book Reports, Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. Also published in 2010. I swear I used to read books when they came out. I did. Parenting sucks.

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