I rarely stop reading a book in the middle. Once I have made the commitment to start, I feel like I am somehow breaking faith with the text if I stop midway. This has probably resulted in untold damage to my brain cells from forcing myself to finish thousands upon thousands of crappy pages, but so be it.
I almost stopped reading Life of Pi right in the middle. It just wasn’t doing it for me. Yeah, yeah, I get it. There’s a kid, there’s a tiger, there’s a boat and an ocean. I pretty much gathered that from the picture on the cover. I felt we were just sitting there together on the lifeboat, which is all well and good for the kid with no options, but for those of us with dishwashers to unload… well, I really wanted to leap out into the water and swim the hell away from Pi and Richard Parker.
And then, right when I was ready to bail, the narrator mentioned the number of days he was at sea, and suddenly everything got interesting again. I decided to stick around and see where it all went.
Damned glad I did.
Maybe it’s because I am tired or maybe it’s because I am out of practice, but I just didn’t see the end coming. I don’t mean the part about finding land – I sort of figured that was how a “lost at sea” book usually winds up, unless it concludes with a guy nailing a bird to the mast of a sinking ship, in which case there is still one guy in a life boat who makes it to shore.
What I didn’t see coming was the part with the Japanese dudes who come down to interview Pi. I don’t want to say a lot more for those of you who haven’t read this (have I mentioned that I abhor spoilers?), but just when I thought we were talking about one thing, it turned out the whole had been about quite another theme altogether.
If you HAVE read the book or don’t care if I reveal something, then read on.
My son, Zachary, is almost five years old. These days, he draws pictures to process the reality that is not quite what he would like it to be. It is his way of controlling the story and of shielding himself from the pain of a world that doesn’t operate how he prefers it to.
Reading Life of Pi, I realized how much we all do that. Children are, of course, especially adept at weaving yarns, but adults need it just as much. Fiction allows us to process the complicated odor of reality. And, yes, television serves this purpose, as do movies. Books, in my humble opinion, do it better because they require more work on the audience’s part, but that is definitely my bias. But we do it all the time. We fantasize about losing weight or having time to cook or having sex with Christopher Walken. OK, maybe not the last one… We also choose which story to tell, so that sometimes we show our darkest selves and other times we get to be the hero.
None of this is news, of course, but I think Life of Pi sheds a hell of a positive light on the way fictions function in our lives. As to how that ship sunk, well, all I can say is someone was down there with a key letting out all those wild animals.