I wanted to like it, and I tried really hard to find good points about the stories but I just couldn’t get into it. These aren’t stories as much as just a series of conversations about what relationships, marriage, and maintaining individuality mean for women. While I agree with some of the ideas that are being proposed, much of the conversations felt stiff and forced. The number of spelling and grammatical errors also increased as the book carried on, so the book definitely needs a second look for editing.
One of the major issues I had was that many of the protagonists almost felt like the same character, I did not find a single one of them to be particularly likable or unique. A good number of them doing the same activities, namely volunteer work, in every story. That was the other thing about many of the characters too, often when descriptions of their difficult past or some other event is brought up, it is extremely vague. The lack of detail makes the descriptions feel a little bit empty.
The first story, Another New Year’s Eve was the most painful to read and I had to try hard to pick the book back up afterwards. The entire story was just an argument between friends about finding love and getting married, and how hard one should or shouldn’t try to find their future husband. Even though I’ve had my own troubles with love and finding the right person, this type of “philosophical” discussion just felt silly and unnecessary. The other stories are better than this one, but not my much.
Out of all of the stories, The Norms and the Abnormal was perhaps the best and it was almost good. It was the story of a woman fighting with herself over whether or not she can wear a color as bold as red. Her fears of coming off too strongly as a justification for wearing neutral colors is valid, yet she still admires the vibrant reds and greens and longs to wear these clothes. Her concerned husband tries to encourage her, and what does the narrator do? Shoot him down. Tell him he’s making a big deal out of nothing, and she should be free to choose how she wants to dress. While I agree with the latter, the fact that she coils back within herself and becomes defensive destroyed any character development within the story.
I also have a gripe about As Simple As That, which is an uncomplicated story about a couple that get married and live their life together. I suppose sometimes relationships can be considered simple, but I haven’t met a single person that hasn’t had something happen, some trouble or drama. Do I really need to read a page and a half about people with no identity, no personality, that have a normal life where nothing happens? No, I really don’t. I get that the author is trying to send a message here, but I didn’t feel this particular story added any real value to anything. Honestly I didn’t feel like I took anything away from the entire collection, nothing that I didn’t already know about relationships anyway, and I just felt like I was being lectured while reading.
The one positive for this collection of shorts is that the stories give some insight into different cultures and value systems. Being born in Southeast Asia but raised in the United States, I can say from experience how my family’s expectations have clashed with some of the cultural norms here, pretty often actually. So I could definitely identify with the themes of conflict with cultural values.
Man is a social creature; relationships are an inevitable part of his life. Formal ones, informal ones; constant ones, intermittent ones; those that make a heart race with joy, those that make it race with dread, and those that are just there because of the way society is structured. Relationships are essential to personal and collective spiritual and material development. One of the most mysterious relationships of all is that of marriage. It is a big commitment, often portrayed as the union of two individuals when in fact it is the union of two families, of two groups of friends, and, at times, of two communities, which means that a large number of relationships have to be adjusted. It is a fundamental building block of society, as married couples create homes in which two families are welcome, children are raised, and members of the community can find solace and love. It is therefore a powerful institution that exerts its influence on the two spouses as well as on those surrounding it. In this series of short stories, real life situations, conversations, and continuous study of Bahá’í Scripture come together in an attempt to understand what can go right and what can go wrong in relationships and how they can influence a community.