Wreck and Order is not for everyone. While the story is interesting, capturing my attention and drawing me in and carrying me quickly through the book; it is also brutal, grim and sexually graphic without one iota of eroticism.
Elsie is a disaffected millennial who, by her actions, would seem to have low self-worth. She is, in other words, a wreck. She sleeps with men she really does not want to sleep with because it is better than being alone and too much bother to say no. Her longest and deepest romantic relationship is with Jared, a drunk drug-dealing musician who occasionally hits her and frequently cheats on her. His degradation of her incites her self-degradation, getting drunk and screaming in the street.
She is both blessed and cursed by her father’s inheritance which allows him to gift her with a few thousand dollars off and on. This allowed her to travel, but it also allowed her to dither in idleness, to self-obsess, and to waste her vast intellect and her life. After high school, she traveled to Paris since she had studied French in school. Sadly, she discovered her French was inadequate and rather than keep trying she retreated into herself. She is a erudite autodidact and one thing I love about this book is that Tennant-Moore assumes readers will know the literary references, so she does not explain them to us. I love it when authors trust readers.
She travels to Sri Lanka. I thought it was noteworthy that she is aware of her privilege but still takes advantage of it. On a bus, she notes that because she is white, a woman offers her a seat, so she takes it. There are several times I found her unlikable. I also found her likable when she was brutally honest about herself, pitiable when she allowed herself to be ill-treated and admirable in her desire to do good.
She befriends a young woman, a student, named Suriya while in Sri Lanka and years later is invited back for the New Year. She is at a crossroads, so she goes, hoping to change her life.
When I read the book description to my best friend, she groaned that it sounded like a millennial Eat, Pray, Love. The very idea was horrifying. Let me assure you, it is not anything like Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, she is a woman in crisis thanks to disappointing and disastrous love. Yes, she flees to an exotic locale. Yes, she explores Buddhism. Yes, she is a first-worlders looking for salvation in the third world. Yes, she is changed and there is hope, in the end, that her life will be better. Yes, to all that. But, she is traveling to Sri Lanka, an impoverished war-ravaged country and staying at cheap hostels and with local families. Even her exploration of Buddhism carefully avoids the usual tropes. Yes, there is hope – but it is fragile and dependent on her strength, her will and our faith she will persevere.
For those of us who find the whole New Age cafeteria consumption of religion offensive and colonialist, Wreck and Order brings some fresh air. When Elsie is meditating, she is also noticing the bug crawling, the ache of muscles too long in one position, and fretting about a thousand things with only brief flashes of mindfulness gone the moment she notices them. She has no expectation of enlightenment after a really good yoga class.
This is a good book. I found it engrossing and thought-provoking. I cannot recommend it widely, though, because the sex is frank, graphic and discomfiting. There are sex acts that women with high self-esteem would call rape, but that Elsie does not because she does not care enough about herself to resist even when she does not want sex. This is difficult to read and absorb. It is heartbreaking to come to care about a woman who cares so little about herself. It is uncomfortable and disconcerting to care about a girl who finds her greatest sexual satisfaction with violence and loss of control. If you like your sex scenes with euphemisms and metaphors and fades to black, this is not for you.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.