Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box

In Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box, our Tators give their verdict on the books they read, whether they're keepers for the shelves, one you borrow from your local library, or just give to your local used bookstore. 

Ali Berlinski's a beautiful mess is a collection of essays showcasing the problem of never fitting in. Berlinski is Filipino on her mother's side, Polish on her father's, the oldest of her mother's children, the youngest of her father's, the middle of the whole brood, as well as an only child. She also spends more than a few essays talking about her failed love affairs and travels between Sacramento, New Jersey and Spain. 

I came into the book thinking it was an ongoing memoir, so the narration came off really confusing and repetitive. After finding out it is indeed a series of separate essays, it made more sense; however, I'm not sure if it made the whole thing better. I am perplexed on what feelings I was supposed to walk away with after reading this. Because it was a collection of essays, the last of the stories doesn't really feel like it wraps anything up; rather, it feels like it just suddenly stops. There was no conclusion after what was a very sad life. I would say the whole collection was just skimming the surface of something deeper. 

I liked the bit of humor that Berlinski inserted into the otherwise depressing prose. Her confusion over never fitting in had great promise, but it was soon eclipsed by her love affairs gone awry (specifically, the on-again-off-again relationship with a man the unfortunate moniker, Gums). I found myself reading these as a friend of hers, listening to her over coffee and wanting to dump my iced coffee over her head, telling her to get over these guys and that she could do so much better. She would have been better off going back to the first few essays about never fitting in, because the relationship essays were painful(and who could keep the boyfriends straight?).

I did find myself wanting to hear more about her relationship with her father, since it seemed healthy, as opposed to her relationship with her mother, which was just horrible, just to balance it all out. I'm not saying all stories should have happy endings, but this one just fell short on I was looking for: the dilemma of never having a specific place in the world.

The Verdict

Donation Box: The back of the book calls her "Carrie Bradshaw re-imagined as a third grade teacher." I would say she sounded more like a character off the show Girls, but it's not far off the mark. To me, that was a negative in her favor, since that mindset does not appeal to me. For fans of either show, they might find it interesting, so I'd say Library Bag for them and any others who enjoy a coming-of-age memoir mostly about failed relationships. Otherwise, it's a miss for me. 

*Review copy received from

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