I chose the title of this post based on the fact that both novellas deal with ‘unavoidable’ situations. In terms of Magnusson’s guide to ‘döstädning‘, also known as ‘death cleaning’, the unavoidable is death itself. It will find us all at some stage. In Shriver’s novella, the unavoidable is subtle – one of the key characters is forced to make a significant decision and regardless of what they choose, there is fallout (as I often say to my clients – “You don’t want any of this but of all of the choices available to you, which is the most tolerable?”).
Magnusson’s book was a disappointment. I was expecting something of an existential nature (I don’t know why!) but what I got was a very basic guide to how to clear out your home. There was nothing groundbreaking about the author’s suggestions – I think we all know how to sort clothes into ‘keep’ or ‘discard’ piles, and how to scan photos and documents to store electronically rather than retaining hard copies. That said, there was one helpful suggestion – put things that are meaningful to you, but are of no value to anyone else, in a box marked ‘throw away’ – this allows you to enjoy the contents while you’re alive, but your family will know it can safely be chucked when the time comes.
There was a little too much ‘throw it away’ for my liking, although I did have a good laugh when Magnusson suggested that it’s best to dispose of ‘dangerous’ items rather than leaving them for others to discover – “Save your favourite dildo but throw out the other 15.”
My parents downsized five years ago and got rid of so much stuff. I feel relieved that I won’t have to do the sorting. My parents-in-law are a different matter. Reading this book, I was reminded of when my sister-in-law told her them that when they were gone, she wouldn’t be going through items one-by-one but would hire a skip and just start filling it. As Magnusson very helpfully points out –
Do not ever imagine that others will wish or be able to schedule time to do what you have not had time to do yourself.
The Shriver met all my requirements for a ripping novella. The story features her trademark moral quandary, and sharp, darkly humourous dialogue.
It’s the story of Jillian Frisk and her best friend of decades, Weston Babansky. Jillian and ‘Baba’ had had a brief fling in the past but both realised they were better off as friends and tennis partners. Their time playing tennis is sacrosanct – three times a week, followed by long chats court-side, discussing everything from philosophy and relationships to recipes for crab cakes and Jillian’s latest craft project.
In fact, Jillian’s ‘projects’ are central to the story. When Baba becomes engaged to his girlfriend, Paige, Jillian presents them with an extravagant, handmade gift. I won’t say anything further about the plot, except that it brings up questions around loyalty and that old chestnut – can men and women ever be just friends?
Shriver’s descriptions are spare but speak volumes. Jillian has ‘…hair that you have to live up to…‘ and ‘…the kind of charm that wore off…‘. Baba recognises early in their friendship that Jillian prompted immediate reactions from others, saying, “You have a strong flavor… Some people just don’t like anchovies.” Baba does like anchovies (!) and Shriver captures the authentic dynamic of a long friendship, making Baba’s double-bind all the more vexing when it arises. It’s brilliant stuff.
Magnusson – 2/5