Extraordinary would have made a brilliant short story. As a novella, it feels stuffed with extraneous detail, and sloppy writing, i.e.: the suicide pills being in the narrator’s pocket on page 13 and then they’re in his shoulder bag, sitting beside his chair on page 165. On the bright side, the book jacket is gorgeous, and the book design is beautiful, although the measure may be a tad narrow.
There are some beautiful sentences in Extraordinary: “The drum solo from ‘Take Five’ concluded, and like a slippered guest entering the room, the saxophone resumed.” But the prose is far from flawless. Overall, the story feels rushed, uneven.
In the end, Extraordinary does not debate assisted suicide, Sally, the narrator’s half-sister, is now about 73 and has chosen to end her life with dignity, and the narrator is complicit. She’d suffered a crippling fall shortly after leaving her husband. Paralyzed from the waste down, Sally coped, perhaps thrived. The accident may have been a catalyst for her children’s chaotic lives, and the children’s lives are thoroughly explored here.
I found myself not caring about any of the story’s characters, or their tragedies and melodramas. All of the characters feel like the sort of constructs H.G. Wells and other 19th Century writers used to personify a certain point of view. They remain soulless; words on a page.
Aside from refilling Sally’s glass (I’m still trying to figure out how scotch fits in a martini …), and assisting her to the bathroom, there isn’t much interaction between Sally and her half-brother. Extraordinary is a dialogue: not conversation; dialogue, as in Plato’s The Republic, but without the metaphysics. Both speakers seem detached from their own histories, both shared and individual. Each has a part of the story the other seems to be missing. While no one has another’s wholes story, here it feels contrived. Their exchange feels like the dialogue of religious morality tales or After School Specials: over the top and sensationalistic. At times it feels gossipy; attempting to shock for the sake of shock. Such writerly finagling fuels the feeling of contrivance (just like alliteration, but not as much fun).
I suppose the real question in Extraordinary is where do we go when we die? But in terms of the story, what the narrator suggests by using Marcel Proust’s quote to lead off the story is the answer. As a novella, Extraordinary falls short because it seems hastily written and prematurely published. Instead of pondering the nature of death and where the soul goes, I wondered whether the writer was contractually obliged to put something out. When reading a story, the last thing I, as a reader, want to know is anything about the writer, or how the story was built. I want to be immersed in the story: That’s why I picked it up in the first place.