Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mall Death Throes, Book Review: “The Arrangement”, Blogging in Sick

I finally had to cry uncle this weekend and replace my mangy, stretched-out, eight-year old bras, which necessitated a dreaded trip the local mall, since it’s been a while and I needed a proper fitting. I have been complaining for years on this site about the dismal state of retail, and I honestly thought that it couldn’t go much further downhill. Well, it has. Malls are perishing all over the U.S., and this particular one appears to be in its death throes. It’s so bad that they actually stopped bothering to air condition it. The whole place was muggy and smelly, and the store I went to buy my bras at was woefully understaffed. The fitting lady was attentive enough, but then I decided to go and look for lightweight pants for an upcoming trip. I walked into six stores, and not in a single one of them did any of the employees bother looking up from their phones. They didn’t greet me, ask what I was looking for, offer to help in any way, or even make eye contact when I was able to tear their attention away from their screens and ask for a fitting room. They’re not even pretending to care anymore. It was eerie. Call me old-fashioned, but when I walk into store actively wanting to spend money, I expect some minimal level of engagement on the part of the staff. I guess that’s now too much to ask, as are clean dressing rooms and an orderly display of goods. I don’t know which came first: Did the lack of service lead more people to turn to online shopping? Or did the lack of customers lead to wide-spread employee ennui? I know not the answer, I only know that malls are now an absolute last resort for my sartorial needs.  

I recently decided to take a break from my Minecraft escapism and plunge into fiction escapism instead. “The Arrangement” by Sarah Dunn had been lounging in my Kindle “recommended” queue for a while, but I eschewed it because it had a cheesy cover and looked like a tedious domestic drama. Well, it is a domestic drama, but it turns out it’s far from tedious. It’s actually a great read: witty, funny, suspenseful, heartfelt, and with just the right satirical touch. Middle-aged couple Lucy and Owen are struggling with raising an autistic son, a stale, sexless marriage, and the stresses of shaky finances and career slumps. At a drunken dinner party one night, mutual friends confess that they have decided to try an “open marriage” arrangement in order to shake up their similarly stale marriage. After talking around it for a while, Owen and Lucy decide to embark on a six-month experiment in which they are both free to pursue sex with other people. They come up with an exhaustive list of guidelines and boundaries, including a strict “no tell” policy, confident that the rules will protect them from any emotional fallout.

The predictable disaster ensues: Owen immediately takes up with a sexual wildcat with mental health problems and stalking tendencies, and Lucy reluctantly agrees to sex with a friend of a friend, then quickly falls in love with him. All of this happens against a backdrop of a small town where secrets are not easily hidden. Although the situation that Lucy and Owen are in is emotionally wrenching, the story is told with a great deal of wit and humor, and the minor characters (Sunny Bang being my favorite, with the autistic Wyatt a close second), are a delight. Although Lucy and Owen are frustrating at times, there was never a minute that I didn’t care about them and wasn’t pulling for them to make it. I read the entire book in almost one sitting because I couldn’t stand not knowing what would happen to them. If you need a gripping novel to take you away for a while, I highly recommend “The Arrangement”. I give it four bedsheets!

Reading has turned out to be a good activity for me, as I am feeling like ten kinds of crap this weekend. I don’t know if it’s the infamous poor air quality—Seattle has been trapped in a haze of wildfire smoke for the last week courtesy of BC--or if it’s this stubborn pinched nerve in my neck that is causing an endless pain/spasm/pain cycle, but I do not like it one bit and frankly just feel like crawling back into bed. Perhaps that is what I will do. I leave you with the latest Simon’s Cat video so I don’t have to bother with a proper close to this post:

--Kristen McHenry

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