Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

My first feeling when I put down this book was confusion. What exactly happened in this story? I knew I was missing something big. So I went and read the professional reviews. Ahhh, I thought. I did miss something. They say, "read it more than once." So I did. My feelings when I put down this book for the second time? There was less confusion, more appreciation, but probably mostly frustration. Why frustration? Well, this is a concept book told through photos, video stills, letters, paintings, programs. It pushes the boundaries of storytelling. However, there was much left unexplained and it's visual strengths created some narrative weaknesses.

Please don't read this review unless you have read the book, or are curious about what happened. Spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

What we think we know: Glory is a piano prodigy. Her mother is dead and her father seems to be a bit overbearing on her piano career, forcing her to perform and tour the world. Glory meets and falls in love with Frank, the boy next door. Father does not approve. Frank is an artist who paints beautiful pictures. Glory seems to be mentally unstable and can't stop playing chopsticks.
She is institutionalized and then disappears one day.

What we actually know: Apparently nothing.

Recurring pictures/themes:
1. Frank's school logo is the SAME as the institution where Glory has been sent by the end of the book. The names of the school/institution is different, but the principle/administrator has the same name (the institution is hilariously called "Golden Hands Rest Facility" which made me think it was an institution created for piano prodigies who need mental health breaks so they can get back to performing).
2. We think Frank is an artist, but the photos at the end show Glory painting some of the very paintings Frank was supposed to have painted.
3. Wine. Glory's mom was a wine importer. There is a special bottle of wine in her old trunk that is the same type that Frank is given by his parents on his 16th birthday. The wine seems to come from Mendoza Estate. Frank's last name is Mendoza. Frank has moved here from Argentina. The wine seems to be from Argentina.
4. The Kraken. It shows up as stickers, on t-shirts, on paintings.
5. There is more, but I'm kind of working up a funk because I don't like how open ended it is.

I really liked the idea. I did. I loved the interconnections and the questions they raised, but there were so many possibilities that the reader is left with...nothing. I mean, can we trust the photos or not? Can we trust the IMs or not? What is made up? What is exaggerated? What is true? Did Frank exist or is Glory schizophrenic? I love the unreliable narrator, but without more to go on this really starts to feel like an exercise in futility which is incredibly frustrating.

By the end I was pretty convinced that the entire story was a figment of Glory's imagination. She is an artist and the damn girl never played anything but chopsticks in her life. She created Frank out of a wine label with a dude's picture on it and fabricated an entire history with him that never existed.

What I find the most frustrating is not even that. It isn't. It is that I couldn't find enough clues to definitively say what happened in the story. Now, Patti, you might say, "Isn't that the point?" And I might answer, "sure, but that doesn't mean that at the end of the story you've got a success."

Book Source = Library Copy


Julia VanLaar said...

wow your review just blew my mind! I didn't even think of all that ... but I didn't look closely at the pictures either. I googled "what happened in Chopsticks" so that I could see what other people thought.

"(the institution is hilariously called "Golden Hands Rest Facility" which made me think it was an institution created for piano prodigies who need mental health breaks so they can get back to performing)." I definitely thought the exact same thing!

Patti said...

Thanks! I really liked it, but found it so frustrating!

Loraine said...

Great review!!! :D Here's mine if you don't mind: