THIS GLITTERING WORLD is a story of love and loss, essentially a tale of the events surrounding one man’s affair that spirals out of control and ties him circumstantially to a hate crime. Flagstaff is a typical college town where these crimes happen far too often across America, and yet this isn’t simply about violence and consequence, division between race and economics. It is a book that focuses on complicated personal relationships more than on physical brutality, illustrating poignantly the battered psyche of a struggling couple who are just starting out and only want to be loved in a real, everyday sense.
T. Greenwood is an exceptional author who knows how to create complete people. Her characters are full, and their varied mindsets are frighteningly clear, especially in how easy and natural it seems for couples to be close and yet to be capable of causing the other continual and irreparable pain. Somehow they are unfortunate, unaware of the full impact of their choices, making the story impactful and lending great interest to readers who do not typically enjoy dramatized fiction.
There is much to consider in this fascinating tale about how we see ourselves and view our relationships, about how people out there seem to struggle and yet choose to stay with loved ones with whom they have virtually nothing in common. The book shows readers artfully how these strange and powerful dynamics can spill over on a larger scale and affect social attitudes. In the worst cases, they can even fuel hate crimes.
Ben Bailey is the protagonist here, an intelligent and complicated man in his late 20s or early 30s, a fine professor who has worked hard to climb the ladder but doesn’t enjoy his job. He has some skeletons in his closet, having buried his past as best he could and not telling his long-time girlfriend about the tragedies that befell him and have defined him. These traumas have marked him, and yet he would rather forget and leave memories behind. He knows from experience that life is full of hard knocks, but inexplicably chose a girl who has never known a single hardship in her entire life. In the beginning, this was what drew him to her, the idea that she was happy and whole. In the end, the admiration wore off, and his reluctance to commit became her big disappointment.
Ben and Sara have been engaged for a long stretch thanks to Sara’s pestering and insistence. She is anxious to tie the knot and has been pressuring him and feeling lately that he is simply selfish. She has never questioned or considered what his motivations are, where anyone else (it seems) would see something insidious in his reluctance, or equally in her continued insistence. The strange thing is that Ben knows he was once truly in love with Sara. Yet his uncertainties haven’t changed with time together, and the two have developed a bitter relationship. Secrecy is now an issue, and the once-happy couple resent each other more and more every day.
A young American Indian named Ricky Begay enters the scene at this point, a teenager who has apparently just been dropped on the street to bleed out right in front of Ben’s house. Ben finds him lying there in his own blood, still green and young, new and innocent, apparently just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once Ben finds the boy mortally wounded and calls 911, he feels compelled to visit him in the hospital and starts the cycle of lying to Sara about where he’s going. But when Ricky survives only a few hours, Ben is haunted by visions of violence and the idea that someone could hate an innocent so deeply. It seems Ben is the only one who really cares what happened to an American Indian who was, for some reason, out alone and couldn’t defend himself.
Whether readers are proponents of the notion that “love is forever,” even as it waxes and wanes through the years, or whether you believe the opposite is true --- that real love doesn’t always endure but often comes and goes relatively quickly, soon fading from a positive state toward perpetual misery --- THIS GLITTERING WORLD is a book that will interest readers of all kinds. The central relationship does seem to fit rather neatly into one of these two descriptions, and yet it’s somehow not presented as cut-and-dried at all --- a topic that readers will feel compelled to think on deeply. This is a rare and thoughtful read that is as joyful at times as it is sad, both contemplative and cruel, as much about forgiveness and responsibility as it is about hate.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on March 28, 2011
This Glittering World