I picked this novel by Rachel Simon off of the new book shelf at my local library. I had heard something about her memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister, but never read it. I started flipping the pages of this brightly bound book and found myself taken with a few phrases here and there.
This is how I choose books – I never read the first page, I always open the book somewhere in the middle and read a paragraph or two. If I like the prose style, I read the book jacket. If the story sounds interesting, I might read another paragraph somewhere else, but rarely do I look at that oh-so-important and way-overrated first page. I am not quite sure why I do this. Perhaps it is because so many writers lag somewhere in the middle and become a bit trite once they have captured the reader’s attention and I want to read rich prose. I want to read books where I learn something. I don’t want just to get caught by the hook of a clever first sentence.
However, I don’t deliberately buck the norm by opening to the middle. It’s just my habit. It’s unconscious. In any case, reading bits and pieces of The Story of Beautiful Girl, I decided to check it out and take it home with me. I am so glad that I did. I adored this novel. The prose is delicious. Rachel introduces each character slowly, with lovely descriptions. I had a lot of fun getting inside the minds of the main characters, and seeing them evolve.
I learned a little history about institutions for those who didn’t fit the normal picture of intelligence. It brought forth a memory, too, that had lain dormant and is still quite faint, about those institutions and in particular what used to happen to children who could not talk and had to be in diapers and cribs.
This is a classic story of two lovers separated at the beginning, who strive across time and distance to find each other again, yet it has an unusual twist: an inability to communicate with the people around them. Homan is deaf and illiterate and on the run and Beautiful Girl (aka Lynnie) is a slow learner but a brilliant artist, stuck in an institution, who knows only a few words. Lynnie is also separated from her baby, and it is the longing to find her child, with the help of a counselor, that helps her learn to speak and then more. One of the beauties of this novel are the people who eventually recognize the abilities of Homan and Lynnie and help them. Along the way, they have many adventures, as does Martha, who is the woman who does something extraordinary to bring up Lynnie’s daughter.
I found myself wondering how many people like Lynnie could learn to first speak and then live in a group home and finally live alone with a caretaker. I realize that many children who could have been high functioning members of society were essentially thrown away and forgotten in institutions. Rachel doesn’t give Lynnie a diagnosis, but the way she develops language, slowly, helps me believe it. I also know that having language makes a big difference to a person’s ability to function in the world.
I definitely plan to read anything else I can get my hands on by Rachel Simon, who has proved to me that she can write with the best of them.
- Must-Read: The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon (homebetweenpages.com)
- Book Review: Story of a Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon (blogcritics.org)
- A Dark Chapter in Medical History
- Developmental Disabilities (Wikipedia)