Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta’s thought-provoking if somewhat bizarre novel, raises interesting questions about what makes a good life and the nature of truth and memory in a generation that archives everything (mostly online).
The book actually doesn’t delve at all into online archiving, that concept that everything you do, say, or think needs to be on Facebook or what have you to make it feel more real. It does, however, lead the reader to think carefully about that sort of archiving by describing archiving of an entirely different sort.
The main characters in the book are a brother and sister who take different approaches to life. The brother is highly artistic from a young age, and loves to write, sing, and document his life (sometimes as it’s actually lived, more often embellished for artistic effect) in a series of scrapbook/journals he calls “The Chronicles.” The sister is the brother’s lifelong audience. She tags along and reads and listens, sometimes when she is the only person intended as the audience.
Along the way the brother becomes one of those older has-been/coulda-been rockers and mooches off the sister, and there are some associated rocker lifestyle moments that would make this an inappropriate book for younger readers or those who don’t care to read (or can’t skim over) that sort of thing. There are some bizarre twists. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the book reminded me strongly of Nabokov’s writing. Maybe it was the examination of memory and reality?
Stone Arabia is one of those books though that hits you more after you finish it. The themes of aging and finding meaning in life, of creating and whether or not a creative output that isn’t widely read/seen/heard is a valid life’s work, and the question of archiving really grabbed me. I couldn’t help but think of our modern tendency to archive things online, to obsessively share, and I wondered about the validity of memories built on a Facebook timeline that people probably heavily edited/Photoshopped/spun before posting. The book also raises questions about the value of a life lived by vicarious experience, which I also think is a modern tendency given how much TV people watch and the amount of time they spend online. Is that still a valid “real life” or not? The book does not draw a lot of conclusive ultimate meanings, but it does get you thinking.
If you have a book club that is open to more experimental types of fiction, and is used to or willing to discuss deeper themes and questions, Stone Arabia would be great for it. If you read it, stop back by and let me know what you think!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.