Published: 17 April 2018
For fans of Maggie Shipstead and Emma Straub, an ambitious, timely, and timeless debut that celebrates the joys and confusions of modern womanhood
Leda is a girl who knows what she wants and who she is—or at least believes she does. When we meet her as a college student in Boston—confident, intelligent, independent—she’s hopeful that a flirty chat with a cute boy reading a book in a café will lead to romance. They have a fleetingly awkward conversation that dwindles into little more than mortifying embarrassment, but the encounter does leave her one positive, and ultimately transformative, thought: Leda decides she wants to read Noam Chomsky. So she promptly buys a book and never—ever—reads it.
As the days, years, and decades of the rest of her life unfold, we watch Leda confront what it is that she really wants and who it is that she is really meant to be. Whether it’s a clumsy New Year’s Eve kiss, the first time she sees the man she will marry, her daughter’s tantrum in an IHOP parking lot, the agony of knowing a friend is being cheated on, or the revival of her creative ambitions in a community writing group, all of Leda’s experiences—the everyday and the milestones—prove to her that even our best-laid plans are not the only paths to happiness. Hilarious and heartbreaking, gorgeously precise, and disarmingly honest, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is a remarkable literary feat that speaks to urgent questions women face today, even as it offers the possibility that, in the end, it might all be okay.
Rating: 1 Star (DNF @ 12%)
I know this book is about a woman that never reads Noam Chomsky, but does that mean she has to be so ambivalent toward other books? Did that mean I had to be so bored to tears by a book inspired by an author that I was almost instantly put off by it? I suppose it doesn’t, but that’s what happened with this title. To be fair, I probably should have researched Chomsky a bit before picking up a book with his name on the cover; hindsight and all that.
From the first page there was a sense of entitlement or elitism that was equal parts confusing, boring, and off putting. It felt like the author was putting on airs to make their writing sound like it was better than they thought it was and in doing so made it sound utterly pretentious. There was also this feeling I got that the author was patronizing and distasteful about the whole storytelling endeavor.
Leda was entirely unsympathetic. I thought that perhaps it was just the early parts of her personality, but the more I read the more I realized the author had just written her to be this unlikeable person. Maybe, maybe, she was working toward making Leda a better person, but the tone of the book was so horrible that I didn’t care about seeing this possible bright future. There was nothing about Leda that made me want to know her, to see her get better.
There’s definitely a constant fat shaming going on, though Leda uses the word “linear” in place of “fat”. She also makes some comments that gave me the impression that she, at the very least, had this idea that fat people have no place on Earth.
As she turned the corner it all fell away, the donuts, the linearity, the boy and his faultlessness; she caught a glimpse of her jumbled reflection in the window by the elevator, and it was awful. She was disgusting. She was fat.
She was also incredibly judgmental of others, tearing them down in what I would have thought was an effort to make herself feel better except she never did, so I’m not sure what the point was. I can’t decide if Leda was being set up by the author to, at some point, become sympathetic because of her body image issues. Even if she was, I’m not sure I’d care because of her terrible attitude toward other people and their bodies. Her own is one thing, but dragging others down, saying they’re fatter, lonier, etc., was too much.
The author also inserted sentences that revealed the future, such as saying when something was happening for the last time; that said, it’s shown that Leda never heals from this compulsion (“This compulsion to be linear began at age twelve and would persist until her death.”) and that, in all likelihood, the fat shaming would be present through the rest of the narrative. It was sad to hear Leda succumbed to this toxic viewpoint, even worse when the author told us at 1% of the way in that she never learns to love herself whatever her size.
Oddly enough, the book seems able to sum itself up in one quote:
“I really don’t get the ending,” the girl across from her said. “Are we supposed to feel sorry for the main character? Because I really don’t. And it’s boring. Why do I care?”
No characters to care about, a storyline that was flatter than a paved highway and about as tasteful, this book is not one I’d ever recommend.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.