Monday, July 23, 2012

Catch and Release by Blythe Woolston

Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston is the story of two MRSA survivors who go on a road trip together, and not much else happens.

Polly-That-Was had it all together. She was pretty and smart and popular, and she had plans for the future. Then she lost an eye, and part of her face, to an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria. Her perfect boyfriend dumped her before she was even out of the hospital, and her boss at the day care gently informed her that it would probably be best if she didn't come back to work. Polly and her mom used to be close, but now her mom hovers and worries, making Polly fretful and self-conscious. When Odd, the only other survivor of the MRSA outbreak, arrives at her door inviting her on a two-day fishing trip, Polly apathetically accepts. The fishing trip stretches into a meandering road trip across the northwestern United States.

Here's what doesn't happen on the road trip:
-Polly and Odd do not go to Portland and beat up Bridger, the aforementioned ex-boyfriend
-Polly and Odd do not fall in love, nor do they have sex (although the issue does come up once or twice)
-Polly and Odd do not stand together at the shore of the Pacific ocean and contemplate their futures
-Polly and Odd are not chased by bears at Yellowstone
-Polly and Odd are not in a car accident, nor are they pulled over for speeding or drunk driving or driving a car with expired license plates
-Polly does not have a sudden realization that Life is Beautiful, nor does she have a stunning moment of self-acceptance

So, what does happen? As I said before, not much. They do occasionally fish. They drive randomly from one place to another. Odd says strange things and does strange things. They compose a few pages of a picture book about monsters. They drink stolen alcohol and smoke prescription marijuana. They become friends, in a sense. If you're looking for a grand plot-driven road-trip-as-self-discovery story, this isn't it. This book is all about voice -- Polly's voice -- and that is done masterfully. Polly is dark and bitter and sarcastic, and it's certainly justifiable. Her character growth is incremental, and rings all the more true because of that. Grand moments of self-acceptance and a sudden determination to embrace life would have cheapened the story. The ending is inconclusive in many ways, though a few things about Odd's character are revealed. I wanted this book to be a little more concrete. Though I think it succeeds in what it was trying to do, it just doesn't appeal to me all that much. On the other hand, I can see it winning literary awards on the strength of the writing.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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