Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reader's Diary #214- Heather O'Neill: Lullabies For Little Criminals (FINISHED)

(Spoiler alert)
I'm questioning my memory. No surprise there. In the shower, I often can't remember if I've shampooed yet or not. But this time, my faulty memory may have made me more critical of O'Neill than I needed.
In my last post about this book, I accused her of being inconsistent with her details. I'm not sure if this is necessarily so. Whereas I thought she had implied she had no childhood toys except a puppet (which was a problem for me as later she talks about a teddy bear she had since she was 6). Maybe this implication was not really made, maybe it was my own faulty conclusion. Simply because she hadn't mentioned other toys earlier, I assumed she had no others. This selective aspect of memory was illustrated quite often by O'Neill and it will no doubt be troublesome for other readers other than myself.
However, O'Neill would not be as much to blame as the reader. The more I reflected on it, the more I realized her portrayal of memory is probably more accurate than I've seen in other books. If you think about it, each time we recall memories of certain points in our lives, not all the details come flowing back each time. I might go on endlessly about cliff climbing when I was a child, recounting many zany and dangerous details. Yet the next time I bring it up might be the first time you've heard any account of my cousin and I throwing rocks down at a third friend who just wanted us to wait up. It's not that I made up additional details the second time around, it's just that maybe it was more relevant to the current circumstance the 2nd time around.
So when Baby talks about her months in Juvenile Detention and fails to mention her time doing solitude there, we needn't think it's a fault of the writing when it is mentioned further down the line. In hindsight, this reflection about memory (while being a secondary theme, for sure), was one of the many things I enjoyed about this book.
I also enjoyed the way O'Neill played with some of the assumptions we have about childhood and adulthood. Are adults necessarily more responsible? Maybe, maybe not. Most certainly have a clearer sense of what dangerous is, but that doesn't mean they know how to address it any better. Is childhood romance frivolous and insignificant? It certainly wasn't in Baby's case. In fact, her relationship with classmate Xavier was more real, substantial and precious than her relationship with the adult Alphonse. While childhood romances are rarely lasting, that doesn't mean they don't play an important role and have lasting impacts.
I wonder if people will find the ending a little too convenient. On the one hand, O'Neill doesn't give a "happily ever after" ending and does leave some ambiguity, but Alphonse's death and the sudden appearance of a cousin offering a helping hand could turn some people off. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. Happy endings are possible of course, I'm not that cynical yet. If, and when, you read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
So far, Lullabies For Little Criminals would get my vote in Canada Reads over Natasha and Other Stories. While I loved three of the short stories in Natasha, the book overall was not as consistently great as Lullabies. Now on to Stanley Park...


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Today on "Talking Books" they discussed Lullabies for Little Criminals. I didn't hear the entire show but amongst your updates, the praise I heard on CBC today, the enjoyment I got from her short story recently, and the fact that this book is being championed by my home-boy make me very eager to read it (right after Everything is Illuminated).

I will be sure to let you know my thoughts on it.

Enjoy Stanley Park!

John Mutford said...

I hope O'Neill doesn't get too much attention leading up to Canada Reads. It'll put a target on her head for the other panelists for sure.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Good point! Samson was good at keeping A Complicated Kindness under the radar last year, but that might not work twice.