Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Woman Upstairs

This was a fun discussion because we had a divergence of opinions, though I think we agreed that Massud wrote a masterful book.  The rub was our disgust for Nora who gave up on her life, on realizing her dreams and the opportunity to be an artist - then she blamed her mother for her own perceived failure and sacrifice.   Kareen wanted to kick her in the rear end.  As we were breaking up, Angela remarked that we never did ask if everyone enjoyed the book.  I asked her if she did and she did not.  Connie overheard us and added that she hadn't like it until she finished and then she thought - that was a good book!

Nora begins by establishing that she is furiously angry and the rest of the book is her telling in detail why.  She moved to New York City because she wanted to be an artist, but she got tired of scrimping and got herself a high paying job with interesting travel.  JoAnn asked why Nora left it for a degree in education and we couldn't remember the reason.  But she did move home to Cambridge to accept a position as a 3rd grade teacher and while outwardly she was quite successful at it, inwardly she viewed herself as the unseen woman on the third floor who was all but invisible to the world, outside of her job.

Enter the Shadids and their role in her life.  As readers we could see her being manipulated and used but she through their eyes she saw herself as valuable, no longer invisible and possibly even an artist.  The unresolved question among us was what happens after the end of the book..  JoAnn didn't think she'd do anything to change her life, that she was just venting steam, and of course, we can never know what the author intended past the final period.  When Nora realizes, "I've frittered the gold of my affection on worthless baubles; I've been treated like dirt.  You don't want to know how angry I am.  Nobody wants to know about that.  I am furious at both of them--at the life of their friendship, their false promises of the world and of art and of love--but just as mad at myself, at my stupid dreams, my misplaced trust, my worthless longing.  But to be furious murderously furious is to be alive....I'm angry enough to set fire to a house just by looking at it.  It can't be contained, stored away with the recycling.  I'm done staying quietly upstairs."

When I finished the book, I thought Nora was moving into a positive future, having enrolled in classes and taken her trip, but after her declaration, "My motivation, even in anticipated shame, lay always in others.  You can take the woman out of upstairs, but you can't take the upstairs out of her," I can hear what JoAnn was saying.  Angela said she had read another of Massud's books and it wasn't upbeat.  Now I wonder.

I think we can conclude that Nora is not going to end her life when she says in the final paragraph, "I'm angry enough to see why you walk into the water with rocks in your pockets, even though that's not the kind of angry I am."  I think that's a veiled reference to Kate Chopin's novella, The Awakening, where Edna loads up her pockets and walks into the Gulf of Mexico.  I suspect will be assigned reading in academia, given the number of references like the Black Monk, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Wolfe and Lucy Jordan, and good on us for taking on ambitious books.  I agree with Angela - I didn't like this book.  I agree with Connie - I finished saying, this was a good book!

No comments:

Post a Comment