A REAL CHALLENGE

Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness was a real challenge to read.

A “different” book

To begin with, the narrator of this novel is a Book. Yes, you read that right, a book; a story, the story of Benny Oh, a young boy who hears the voice of the Book, his story. His mother Annabelle, is never the same after the death of Benny’s father, who is killed in a grotesque accident–meaningless and bizarre. In the novel she becomes a recluse and a hoarder. Benny takes “refuge [from his strange life] in the silence of a large public library.”He meets a homeless, wheelchair-bound philosopher and poet and a mesmerizing young woman, both classified as imaginary friends by the psychiatrist who takes on Benny’s case, but who turn out to be real people he met at the library. (Even the reader comes to doubt Benny for one awful moment–I did.)

There is a run in with CPS, incarceration in a mental hospital for Benny, and a job loss for Annabelle. All of these semi-unrelated events come together in an implausible but satisfying ending. The novel is at times humorous, and at times heartbreaking . Above all, the book is difficult to read, and I am still trying to decide whether sticking with it was worth the huge effort.