Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky: Tricking Fate

Childhood friends Sally and Bernice have the most noble intentions — they endeavor to raise their children, George and Irene, so that when they will grow up, meet randomly, fall in love, and live happily ever after. It'll be as if they were fated to be together, like two halves of a whole, like symmetrical souls. Of course, when you're trying to trick fate and arrange a marriage over the course of a few decades, even the best laid plans can go awry.

So this attempt to engineer destiny is the set-up for Lydia Netzer's fun, quirky 2014 novel, How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky. There's two ways to look at Sally and Bernice's plot: They're just looking out for and protecting their children. Both Bernice and Sally's parents got divorced when they were young, and so by arranging their kids' soulmates (albeit without the kids' knowledge), they're just trying to make sure they have happy lives. The other way, though, is that by trying to trick the fate of falling in love, they're actually ruining it. They're trying to have their fate and beat it too. So the question of the novel is, will it work?

So it's a novel about fate vs. free will, yes. But it's also about empirical evidence vs. blind faith,  myth vs. truth, and about overcoming what you are sure you know to be true about the world when new "evidence" is presented. Finally, it's about learning how to be happy.

Our two star-crossed lovers, George and Irene, are both wonderful characters — flawed and neurotic and maddening. And their mothers are even worse.

I really dug this book for both its premise and for Netzer's writing. There are some beautiful, poetic, profound passages as often as there are hilarious, goofy one-liners. It's a book not to take too seriously, but to take seriously enough to truly imagine the possibilities presented with this cool premise.

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