* Warning: I have tried not to include spoilers, but can’t guarantee a thing.
You know how reality suspends itself in a dream, but no one in the dream (including yourself, the dreamer) seems to notice? That basically sums up the degree of reality in this book. Therefore, if you are willing to suspend your own expectations of literary reality for awhile in order to read it, then you’ll probably have some pretty profound take-aways.
The big questions in this book centre around the soul: what do we do to grow it and what do we do that slowly chips away at it. The story starts with a bank robbery. All in all, a pretty realistic occurence. However, the robber is not looking to make a getaway with money. Instead, he takes the object each person is carrying that holds the most sentimental value for them. He then informs everyone that he has taken 51% of their souls. In order to prevent their own demise, they must find ways to grow them back. This is based on the premise that the soul is a living, breathing organ contained within the human body and needs constant rejuvenation in order to keep them alive.
So far you’re thinking, “There’s nothing super-strange about that!” Wait for it…the taking of the souls has bizzare consequences for everyone in the bank that day. Case in point, one woman watches her lion tattoo come to life and leap off her body. She then spends eighteen days or more running from the lion until she gains the courage to face and control it. Another woman hid a pair of diamond earrings in her pocket at the bank and readily gave up her pictures of her children. The next morning she wakes up made of candy. She rubs her hands together over cereal bowls to dust them with sugar when her children don’t want to eat breakfast, breaks off her pinkie finger as a bribe to get them to go to school, and eventually succumbs to being eaten by her husband during foreplay – essentially, she sacrified pieces of and finally her whole self for the happiness and pleasure of her family.
The central story, however, focuses on a woman named Stacey. She is the wife of the book’s narrator. She had offered a calculator to the robber – a run-of-the-mill object for most people, but completely memory-laden for her. She used the calculator to help her husband in a University class the day she met him and subsequently used it to help her make every important decision of her life (the day she got pregnant, the impending birth date, their mortgage when they were debating a second child, etc). Right away, the author hints that their marriage is in trouble and this is where the journey begins. She notices a few days later that she has begun to shrink and her husband is forced to focus on her, to try and make her new life as comfortable as possible (there’s a lot to think about when your wife if the size of a salt shaker!), and contemplate a life without her as she will soon disappear. The ultimate question as the story hurtles toward its climax is: will Stacey figure out how to re-grow her soul in time or will she keep shrinking into oblivion?
Stacey’s main complaint about her marriage is that her husband doesn’t consider her and instead focuses on how he’s feelings, what is inconveniencing him, etc. Her new predicament makes sense in that he is finally forced to consider her every second of the day and this drains away the anger and resentment that has led them into counselling and possibly to an impending divorce.
Call it a fable, call it an allegory, call it magical realism…it’s subject to interpretation and beside the point. I don’t like labels, but these are some that might fit if it helps. The bottom line is that this is a short read that will make a big impact on the reader. I think I spent more time thinking about the book then I did actually reading it. I found myself drawn back to the book in order to see each character’s story in-depth – what they gave that day in the bank, what I knew of their lives, what their consequences were, and what lesson they learned. This is an outstanding book for making connections within the story, synthesizing the information read, and drawing conclusions based on evidence from the book. It would be a spectacular book club pick as the potential conversations are seemingly endless.
And just who is this robber who is able to wreak havoc in the lives of so many? This remains a loose end – although the lion sure got to know him up close and personal. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that.