“Do you find yourself sort of secretly hoping that civilization collapses …just so that something will happen?”
If that’s not a sentence to start a book these days …
I’m taking a bit of a liberty there — Vincent’s friend Melissa doesn’t make this quip until 26 pages in, but it’s a mood setter and this was the book that capped the first round of stay-at-home orders for me this Spring. On the cusp of a pandemic and national unrest at yet another death of another black man at the hands of the police, all I could do was nod to myself and think, “Yeah, maybe.”
Context to our current state aside, I had been eagerly anticipating Emily St. John Mandel’s “The Glass Hotel” for some time and was more than happy to have it as a companion while the family was serving in our statewide Time Out. Having previously read the fabulous-but-don’t-read-it-right-now-because-it’s-about-a-pandemic “Station Eleven” I knew Mandel could craft an engaging tale that taps into very real feelings, bringing fictional characters as close to breathing in real life as any author I’ve read. I don’t know how to explain this other than to say, she’s not afraid to go there. Not every story needs a happy ending to be rich and fulfilling.
There’s Walter, the caretaker of the Hotel Caiette, who admittedly is happiest being utterly alone. Leon, who loses everything and feigns a happy acceptance of a life in an RV, working odd jobs with his wife. The once-glamorous Olivia seemingly content in her role has an aging D-lister. Jonathan, the architect of everyone’s destruction, trying desperately to hold on to his sanity. Paul, an accidental killer and co-opter of art. But mostly, there’s Vincent.
Vincent, Paul’s half-sister, Jonathan’s pretend wife, Walter’s ex-employee … she’s pretty much the singular character that touches, even if just peripherally, the lives of everyone else in Mandel’s novel. At first young and unmoored by her mother’s accidental death, she floats along in life, clearly cynical and somewhat self-serving, attaching herself to Jonathan’s orbit as a pseudo trophy wife, until she makes a realization — a realization that given the context of our current state, feels incredibly on point. That “she had slipped into dependency because dependency was easier.”
She was still unmoored, she was just unmoored with money. And that made it easy to ignore the fact she didn’t really know who she was.
I don’t want to spoil the storytelling, so let me just say this — Mandel pulls you in by first taking you to the hotel we all wish we could stay, tucked away in the woods, and away from the world. These are characters that are going to stay with you for awhile. Just don’t take any investment advice from the guy at the hotel bar. Such a great story, and well worth your time.
P.S. While I like the idea of being visited by ghosts from my past as I near my own demise, I hope I get to pick who. I’m just saying, I’m thinking Jonathan would have preferred the option.