Book Review: Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

I am not a philosophy person.

I tried to be, back in college and I took Philosophy 101. I know all about the cave and Aristotle. It’s all nice and heavy, but it doesn’t really have to do with me deciding if I want to make stir fry or spaghetti tonight. That’s how I felt about this book.

This is the story of Lydia. In college, Lydia is fiercely passionate about philosophy and playing Schubert’s Trout on oboe and piano. She and her female friends argue about philosophy, Chaucer’s works, the meaning of life, sophism. Lydia sleeps with a guy, breaks up with him but still remain friends, then marries his roommate. As time goes on, the women continue to meet under the pretext of discussing philosophy, but they all got better things to do with their lives, such as raise families, have careers, usual life stuff. That’s the first half of the book. In the second half, disaster strikes Lydia and her family, and she tries to deal with the consequences by…philosophizing on why philosophy has failed her…

Oh, man, I can’t even finish it. Much like I couldn’t finish the book.

Maybe it’s because I’m not interested in philosophy. Or maybe I am, but not to the level that Schwartz have her characters doing in this book. I like the writing. Schwartz has some great passages in this book, such as when Lydia describes her aftercollege years before she gets married: “I was in a haste to live, and yet everything I did felt suspended in an ether of tentatively…I envisioned real life as a fixed point of arrival…” Lydia collects philosophy quotes like some Christians collect Bible verses. She keeps them in her mirror or in her purse, bringing each quote out again and again in conversations that go on for pages and pages. This is supposed to be heavy and thought-provoking and deep, but really, all Lydia is doing is navel gazing, and gazing at other women’s navels and having long, deep, boring, pedantic conversations. Pedantic. That’s our word for the day, by the way. Pedantic.

Maybe Schwartz shouldn’t have had Lydia as the narrator. Lydia’s life is so mundane, and once the disaster occurs, she becomes so wrapped up in herself, that it feels that none of the other characters want to be around her. Being the reader, I didn’t want to be around her, so I wound up skipping through the second half, mostly. It was just too hard to sympathize with someone who constantly analyzed her feelings over her non-feelings. Granted, what happened to her was tragic, but still, nothing happens. The whole book felt like: navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, FLASH OF INSIGHT, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, TRAGEDY, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, navel gazing, BITTERNESS, navel gazing, navel gazing, OUTSTANDING AND CATHARTIC TROUT PERFORMANCE, navel gazing…

Her friends seemed to have more interesting lives–Nina, who never marries but has an affair with a married man (she does has a wonderful monologue about her parents), Gaby who’s married to a man who loves her more than she loves him, and Esther, crazy, wonderful Esther, who frankly had the most interesting life of them all: going to Israel, marrying a hippie. Oddly enough, towards the end of the book, Esther drops out of Lydia’s life altogether. I bet if she was the narrator rather than Lydia, we would have gotten a better, more interesting story (and perhaps she wouldn’t end up living in a run-down apartment in Washington with 3 cats…)

Oh well. This gets 1 1/2 out of five Trouts, which is a shame because all her talk about the Trout made me go online and actually listen to it, and I agree, it’s a pretty piece and made the book a bit more bearable to read. But as it is, I’m taking it back. It’s been in the sun too long and is starting to stink.

3 Responses

  1. Everyone is a philosopher, Lashawn. But few are good philosophers. I wonder what Plato would of thought about Aristotle stealing his idea of the Allegory of the Cave!? 😉

  2. See, that’s why my very first sentence was: “I am not a philosophy person”. Of course, I could ponder on what Aristotle and Plato are doing right *now*, but I think I’ll leave that philosophical discussion to the theology students.

  3. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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