title: Stone Arabia [purchase here]
author: Dana Spiotta
genre: literary fiction
originally published: 2011
source: New York Public Library
Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta’s third novel, follows Denise as she tries to gently hold together the pieces of a family as it drifts slowly in different directions. Her mother suffers from a dementia she is adamant she doesn’t have and Denise must come to terms with something more scary than becoming her mother: becoming her mother’s parent. Her brother Nik, a *fascinatingly* complex character, lives by the mantra “self-curate or disappear,” and has amassed an enormous collection of documents, recordings, etc, referred to as “the Chronicles,” all fictitious, chronicling life how he sees it? how he wishes it was? And how does Denise deal with the pressure? Displacement. She begins to have excessively empathetic reactions to items in the 24 hour news cycle.
Spiotta’s novel is riveting, refreshingly of the moment but at the same time, timeless in terms of the lives of the characters and the challenges they face.
One scene that I thought worked incredibly well was a scene in which Denise learns her mother has tried to shoplift and then refers to the cop as a “mick,” behavior completely opposite of her character.
“Where in her brain was this coming from? The doctor wasn’t sure of the nature of her dementia, or how fast it would progress. He just called it likely Alzheimer’s. He couldn’t tell me what I could expect. Anything was typical. Anything was possible. At first I didn’t think it really mattered–they were all equally untreatable. What difference did it make if it was this or that part of the frontal lobe? But I wasn’t quite prepared for this latest sign of deterioration. It wasn’t just forgetting the past or repeating the same thing over and over. It was actually remixing and changing the wiring. It was creating new things, it was changing her in real ways. She wasn’t just losing her social inhibitions, nothing as benign as that. She was starting to get paranoid, and it made her someone else, someone a little mean. It just didn’t seem fair.” (Spiotta, pgs 139-140)