Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Review: Half Life by Shelley Jackson

Title: Half Life

Author: Shelley Jackson

Pages: 448

Received from: Amazon


Nora and Blanche are conjoined twins. Nora is strong, funny, and deeply independent, thirsting for love and adventure. Blanche, by contrast, has been asleep for twenty years. Sick of carrying her sister's dead weight, Nora wants her other half gone for good - a desire that takes her from San Francisco to London in search of the Unity Foundation, a mysterious organization that promises to make two one. But once in England, Nora's past begins to surface in surprising and disturbing ways, pushing her to the brink of insanity and forcing her to question her own - and Blanche's - grip on the truth.

Nora and Blanche are not normal, even by Twofer standards. While Nora is a loud-and-proud lesbian, ambitious and ready to get on with her life, Blanche is...asleep. Not figurativly, either. Like, for reals, she's been sleeping for twenty years. Nothing but dead weight.

The thing you have to understand about this world is that seeing this type of thing--conjoined twins, that is--is not as mind-boggling as it would be in our society. In Jackson's ever-so-slightly warped world, a nuclear fallout some time ago has created an entire multi-generational phenomenon, making conjoined twins, or Twofers, the new gay subculture. And, just like the gay subculture, they tend to congregate in San Fransisco.

Anyway, since Twofers have become nothing more then slight oddities, Nora and Blanche had a relatively normal childhood. Now that Blanche is asleep, however, Nora uses her to submerge herself in the Twofer community, including artsy film festivals and special bookstores. Oh, and to screw hot lesbians with fetishes. Hm.

So, here's my major concern; it took me a hundred pages to figure out what the fuck was going on. It was like the incoherent (albeit, very intelligent and witty) memoir of a British eccentric. No, just kidding, that sounds awesome. Half-Life's first hundred and fifty pages were...not boring, never boring, but I just felt like I couldn't really get into it. Putting aside Nora's obvious social issues, none of the characters were completly there, maybe because Jackson was never completly there. I don't know, I think she couldn't decide whether she wanted this to be a plot-driven future story or a odd, Tim Burton-esque character drama. Either way, she achieved niether. I haven't decided whether this fact is good or bad, but it is certainly off putting.

Every other chapter or so is littered with tales of the twin's conception and upbringing, their mother's emergence as a Proud Twofer Mother, life after Blanche's nap, and assorted documents that appear to be "seperation" forms, filed by Nora. This might have been some kind of social commentary, on how we all have dual personalities and sometimes we just want to hack saw one out of the equation. Or maybe its not. I don't know and, as always, I'm not gonna dig too deeply. I think that kind of basterdizes an author's work and if this book deserves only one thing, its to be left alone (in that regards).

Rating: I'm gonna say 7.


Robby said...

Man, this book sounds really great. There are certain topics that really interest me in books- Asperger's and mental illness, death, but I've never even heard of a book relatively like this.
Gotta look into it.

Dannie said...

Oh, you should. Its an interesting read.

La Coccinelle said...

Well, this just sounds... weird. LOL! I'm not sure if I'd be able to follow it, either.

Aarti said...

Wow. I don't even know sometimes how some authors develop certain plots and this sounds like one of those! Conjoined twins where one is asleep all the time and the other is a lesbian, and both live in a dystopic society? There seems to be a LOT going on here!

Dannie said...

I wouldn't really describe it as dystopic--I'd say it was more like a very mildly warped version of our world. In fact, it took me about fifty pages to figure this out. The entire thing is very subtle, which, again, may or may not work, depending on who's reading it.

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