Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Me Before You: I Before E Except After C, or Every Rule Has an Exception

Here comes the honesty. This story is what you might call emotionally manipulative, and it has tropes. Oh, does it have tropes. I have a low tolerance for this sort of thing. My husband is an occasional reader of Nicholas Sparks, and when I (good-naturedly) mock him he responds by patting me on the head and saying, "It's okay if you're dead inside."

I just save my tears for things that matter is all.

But Me Before You is proof that I can unzip the leathery pouch around my reader's heart (separate from the heart I use in everyday life, because that one is made of gummy bears and suspended in cherry Jello) and let the author guide me where she or he will.

Louisa Clark is our heroine, playing the not-unique role of directionless 26-year-old still living at home and exhibiting unconventional fashion choices. (Aspects of this character are, in fact, almost identical to Johanna Morrigan in How to Build a Girl.) Her earnings are basically keeping her family (mother, father, younger sister, younger sister's young son) afloat, so when the bakery where she works closes, she's in desperate straits. The job agency finds her a position working as a full-time caretaker for a paraplegic man. She is assured she won't be asked to perform any medical or intimate duties, for which she isn't qualified anyway, so she's not entirely sure why she's being hired at all. But she doesn't have the luxury to be picky, and the job pays well.

The man in question, Will Traynor, is quite young (in his early 30s), quite handsome, and quite rich. None of this should be a surprise to you.

Nor should it be a surprise that this handsome
yet vaguely douchey-seeming actor will be playing
him in the movie adaptation due out this year.

Will is bitter and sarcastic and stubborn as all hell. He was a successful businessman who traveled the world and climbed things and then sometimes jumped off of those same things he had just climbed, and he's not adjusting well to this new reality as a prisoner in his own body. In fact, he's staunchly opposed to the idea of adjusting to it, and he resents anyone who dares to suggest that his situation has a silver lining.

So here we have a girl who hasn't figured out her passion or seen the world outside her small hometown, yet is reasonably content, and a recently crippled man who has lived enough for five lifetimes but has a chip on his shoulder the size of his parents' castle. (Oh right, I forgot to tell you that his parents own a castle.)

I'm sure you can see where this is going. Yes? You have some knowledge of such things?

Not as much as you might suspect, unfortunately

I could see the setup from a mile away, and I knew I shouldn't be falling for it, but I couldn't help myself. Plus, there were a couple of interesting dynamics at play that made this story more than it might seem at first glance.

Because Will is a man whose life revolved around what he could do, on the power he wielded both physically and mentally, in a world that largely reinforces that superficial conception of male self-worth, he struggles to realign himself to his new reality in a way that will allow him to see any worth in himself. This situation would be just as difficult for a woman, but gender roles being what they are there is an added element of shame for a male living under this degree of dependence.

At one point, Will recommends that Louisa read The Red Queen, and the book gives her (and us) some insight into his worldview:
This book . . . was all about a kind of battle for survival. It claimed that women didn't pick men because they loved them at all. It said that the female of the species would always go for the strongest male, in order to give her offspring the best chance. She couldn't help herself. It was just the way nature was.
I didn't agree with this. And I didn't like the argument. There was an uncomfortable undercurrent to what he was trying to persuade me of. Will was physically weak, damaged, in this author's eyes. That made him biologically irrelevant. It would have made his life worthless. 
Oh, I said a couple of interesting dynamics. I owe you another dynamic. Louisa has some issues with men that, to keep it vague, involve their using their God-given manly power against her. So she's able to let her guard down with Will, exactly because of the imbalance of power between them, which ends up being crucial to her growth as an individual and wouldn't have been possible with literally any other man.

And bonus dynamic! Louisa's relationship with her family and especially her sister, and the ways they show up for her and she shows up for them are . . . really great. They're just really great.

So, yes, sure, I read a sappy love story, and I liked it a lot.

Go about your business.

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