I struggle with books written in structurally experimental formats. You know the type: journal entries, paired with text message conversations, paired with letters written to friends. Weird timelines. The structure is a big, fat distraction. As a kid, nothing was more devastating than reading the first three Anne of Green Gable books and being confronted with book four, which moves the plot forward with letters Anne wrote or received. Anne of Windy Poplars was devastating to my 12 year-old-self. Anne and Gilbert are supposed to be together, not writing excruciatingly boring letters!
I immediately returned any books written as journals or letters back to the library if I accidentally checked them out. For years.
Then I read Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which even plays with formatting and is even more structurally bizarre. And I didn’t hate it. I didn’t read the next two books in the series though.
I prepared to struggle with The Innocence Treatment, by Ari Goelman. The book is written as a non-fiction exploration 10 years after the events the actual fictional novel is about. It relies on footnotes, journal entries, therapist notes, video entry excerpts and editorial comments to tell the story. If it wasn’t required reading, I would have closed it before the end of Page 1. (To clarify: this is a fictional novel for young adults that is basically a new riff on an American dystopian future. It’s complicated.).
Lauren Fielding has a rare mental illness that makes her believe every single thing she is told. Also, she believes everyone likes her and has her best interests at heart, making her super vulnerable to everything. Her family arranges for her to have brain surgery to become more like everyone else. The surgery has an unexpected side effect: having been so unaware of people’s intentions, Lauren pays better attention to everything and she starts realizing there is something dangerous happening around her. She sets out on a one woman mission to reveal the truth to everyone. Ten years after Lauren’s one woman war on society, her sister writes a book about her, called The Innocence Treatment.
Unexpectedly, I enjoyed The Innocence Treatment. After the first few pages I adapted to the cadence of the book, even though I had to pay a lot of attention to dates and the source material.
Either Goelman is better at this media melding than other authors, or I’m becoming a more flexible reader. Still, I’m never reading Anne of Windy Poplars again. Probably.
Ari Goelman was at Event 7 (The Upside Down) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.