Wednesday 12 April 2017

Definitions of Indefinable Things, Whitney Taylor

You're never as alone as you think you are
Reggie Mason is all too familiar with "the Three Stages of Depression." She believes she’s unlocked the secret to keeping herself safe: Nobody can hurt you if you never let them in. 

Reggie encounters an unexpected challenge to her misanthropy: a Twizzler-chomping, indie film-making narcissist named Snake. Snake’s presence, while reassuring, is not exactly stable—especially since his ex-girlfriend is seven months pregnant. As Reggie falls for Snake, she must decide whether it’s time to rewrite the rules that have defined her.
* * 
2 / 5

Reggie Mason is depressed. She meets the equally, if not more so, depressed, nihilistic, terrible indie film-maker Snake. Snake's sort-of and entirely one-night-stand girlfriend Carla is seven months pregnant with his child. What intrigued me about Definitions of Indefinable Things is this entirely bizarre triad relationship and the scenes that involved this odd dynamic were definitely my favourites. Unfortunately, I found the book to be unbearably pretentious and Reggie and Snake to alternate between quite realistic and unbearably insufferable. Carla was definitely my favourite.

"You want to know a secret? Something's killing me too. It's called depression. And it's not a symptom of anything but me"

I sympathise a lot of Reggie's depression. She hates therapy thinking it does nothing for and her mother thinks she's depressed because she doesn't pray enough and God is punishing her. That sucks. Taylor also nailed that sort of blank empty feeling where you don't want to do anything but lie there and listen to music pounding in your ears. Reggie meets Snake and finds him intriguing - then he ends up getting a job at the same ice-cream van as her, and they go on a terrifically cringey "anti-date" which involves sitting on a trash heap whilst telling each other they hate the other. 

Unsurprisingly, Reggie's mum (who she unironically addresses as Karen all the time to piss her off) doesn't like Snake. It might be the weird film he's directing called The Sheer Uselessness of Our Condition, it might be the lesbian mums he has, or it might be the fact that he impregnated "Little Carla", as Karen affectionately calls her, on a one-night stand. Obviously, the parental disapproval encourages Reggie to spend more time with Snake. 

How does anyone know they're depressed? You feel equally alive and dead and have no idea how that's even possible. And everything around you doesn't seem so full anymore. And you can't tell if the world is empty or you are. That's how I knew. I realised it wasn't the world that was empty"

Reggie spends a lot of time thinking about how she feels about Snake. He insists he doesn't really like Carla that much, but will call her "babe" and gush over the baby in front of Reggie. He'll kiss her and invite her to his house, then go to a birthing class with Carla. And then Carla seems to decide that Reggie is her new best friend, despite them sorting of sharing the same guy. This is all both hilarious and interesting, because it is a really good dynamic that Taylor has created here. I've never read anything like it.

The main disappointment about this book for me is that nobody, nobody, not even depressed teenagers, have conversations like Reggie and Snake. It's sort of got that The Perks of Being A Wallflower feel but a thousand times more cringeworthy and pretentious. Snake says things like:

"I am but a pebble in the sand. I am sitting on a pile of garbage eating pizza that tastes like paper with a girl who hates me almost as much as I hate myself and I am but a pebble in the sand"

And Reggie's inner monologue runs along the lines of: there would always be something standing in the way of me becoming one of those stupid and ordinary people. And theres this:

My world view is that we are all spiralling towards a vast and gaping obscurity we can't escape, and if we're lucky, we're doing so alone. Also, I despite you. And by you, I mean the general human population
I'm fairly sure this is supposed to be tongue in cheek, but it's just irritating after a while.    

I was going to give this book 3 stars because it does have a lot of good points, but then I remembered how I had to struggle through the beginning. It also took me a relatively long time to read this book, considering how short it is. I did like the ending - it definitely ends on a positive note. Reggie and Snake turn their backs on some of their "life is pointless" rhetoric and the three main characters settle into a comfortable dynamic. I was very pleased to find that Carla does end up happy. The best thing about this book was how absolutely spot on the depiction of depression is - this could be really helpful to some people.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. 

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