How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
I've been so swamped with work-related reading lately, I've barely had time to read for pleasure. Thus, rather than my usual tendency to binge-read a book in one or a few sittings, I started Camille Bordas's How to Behave in a Crowd a few pages at a time. It took me a while to get into the story, but before long, I was sucked in — to the point where I was sneaking in pages on my way to work and before appointments.
The protagonist Dory (or Izzie, as he prefers to be called) is the youngest of a large, Salinger-esque family of brilliant intellectuals. Unlike his pretentious siblings (who are sometimes hard to distinguish from one another), Dory is a kid with normal problems — loneliness, everyday humiliations, crushes on unattainable girls who may or may not know his name. Dory's normalcy makes him stand out from his siblings, who skipped grades at school and are prone to impart their wisdom to their naive younger brother in the most heavy-handed ways. We're told (and we see) that Dory is sensitive and empathetic in a way foreign to his siblings; he, for example, befriends his insufferably snobbish sister Simone's visiting penpal, Rose, because Simone can't bear to stoop to Rose's vacuousness. He pays attention to his loved ones and is frequently the only person to notice others' secret pain. At first, Dory's sensitivity seems like a weak consolation for the fact that he's not brilliant. But then we see that perhaps Dory's gift of emotional intelligence makes him the most brilliant of all.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved Dory. I found his and his family's navigation through various events such as death, disillusionment, and failure compelling and real. While I never quite warmed up to Dory's siblings (until very literally the end of the book), the family's home was a place I liked to be, stained couch and all. I was sad to say goodbye (to Dory, not the couch).
The beauty of this book is that things happen (big things!), but it's not about the plot. It's a psychological bildungsroman in which a character's inner life is even more fascinating than what's happening around him.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.