Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer

My year of challenge-free reading is off to a great start!

sleepwalkingI found this book while visiting a great little bookstore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Even though I had plenty to read for a week of vacation, I’m always up for a trip to a local indie shop. I went in looking for The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and Unbroken and I came out with This is How I’d Love You and Sleepwalking.

Ya’ll, I was captivated by this book. Although the premise is darkish and depressing, the story drew me in. Three college coeds are each obsessed with the works and lives of three famous poets who’s lives all ended in suicide. These “Death Girls”, as they are known around campus, become fast friends and they meet regularly in a candlelit dorm room to read and discuss and meditate on the works of their poets. Laura is obsessed with Anne Sexton, Naomi with Sylvia Plath and Claire, the protagonist, is an expert in a fictional-to-us-poet, Lucy Ascher. The Death Girls dress in black and actually look like the poets they adore.

Now, I don’t mind dark themes if they provide thought provoking insight and I don’t end up feeling assaulted. To be honest, I don’t ever want to feel assaulted when I read, even for empathy’s sake.  In the case of Sleepwalking, I found an ominous story I enjoyed that provided plenty to think about in terms of depression, grief and family dynamics. I would love to discuss this one in a book club because I just have so many thoughts.

But hear me, the story in Sleepwalking is not my favorite part. It’s the writing. My word people! She wrote this book in college!!  And it’s not so hard to understand that she could fashion a story about college students, being one herself at the time, but the maturity with which she tells her tale is incredible. I would expect that level of writing to come after years of perfecting her craft. It wasn’t the working of the words, it was, like I said, the maturity of thought and expression. I was impressed and quite frankly, jealous.

Here are some quotes I loved:

“It was funny how many of the phrases that came to mind when thinking of his own life were somehow sea-related. Her interest had ebbed.  They were both drowning in their sorrow.  He had sunk lower than ever before. The vocabulary of the ocean seemed tailored to loss.”

“You couldn’t raise a child to love life. You just had to cross your fingers and hope that it would happen naturally. Life is good, you subtly had to drum into your child’s ears, bolstering the message by displays of love and affection. You had to hold your child, and you had to be unafraid of holding your spouse in front of your child.”

“When she first began learning about the ocean, she had loved learning about plate tectonics-continental drift. It was wonderful to think that huge land masses might be moving apart and shifting deep under the surface of the earth, even as she and Ray slept. Profound things happened when you weren’t looking, and there were times when you couldn’t look, when you had to close your eyes for a moment of private darkness.”

She’s got a slew of other titles. The Wife has been on my radar a while and so has The Interestings. I’ll get to them eventually but since I started with her first one, I’m thinking I might as well just read her books in order. I don’t know, I’m reading freely this year so I’m not giving myself any official structure.

I know there are a ton of Meg Wolitzer fans out there. Tell me, have you read Sleepwalking? Which Wolitzer is your favorite?

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