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Review: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

This oddly structured book reminded me of my own oddly structured book.

Is Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry--which is marketed as a novel on its cover--actually a novel? Well, it depends how you define the term. Merriam Webster's Dictionary (not that we should necessarily care what they think) defines a novel as "an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events." Invented prose narrative? Check. Long and complex? Long and complex enough. Human experience? Yup. Connected sequence of events? Therein lies the potential rub.

There are two main narratives in Asymmetry. The first is the story of a twenty-something woman working in publishing in NYC who is having a relationship with a much older, famous writer named Ezra Blazer (modeled after Philip Roth, who Halliday dated once upon a time). The second narrative is the story of a Kurdish/ Iraqi American who is being detained in the London airport while trying to take a trip back to Iraq. By the end of the book (mild spoiler) we come to believe that the second narrative is being written by the woman in the first. The book sort of leaves it up to the reader to make the connection of why these two stories are being presented together.

Does it really feel like these stories belong together? Or in other words, do these two halves make a whole? Not really. But then perhaps the better question is: should we care? Maybe, maybe not. Both stories are well-written and engaging on their own merits. The first narrative is fascinating for its complexity and the fact that the May-December relationship it depicts refuses to follow stereotypes. The second narrative is a tension filled novella that tells a story I, at least, haven't read before (some have accused Halliday of appropriating the story of others, but I will ignore this point for the purposes of this review).

This book obviously has some parallels to my "novel" The Childless Ones in that there are two pretty disparate narratives that require some work from the reader to mentally bring together. Many of the criticisms of my own book seemed to be similar to those of Asymmetry regarding whether the two sides fit snugly enough. That said, what I felt for both works was that even if the reader decides the sum of a book's parts doesn't quite add up to something more, if the individual parts themselves are satisfying, then the overall reading experience is still a positive one. I will, of course, leave it to others to judge the reading experience of my own book, but I will say that for Asymmetry, I felt that, while the two halves didn't come together to form the perfect novel, the experience of reading two very good novellas is still a satisfying one that I'd recommend to others.


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