All right, all right, I was just trying to be friendly. I was just trying to be friendly. That’s what they all say. The feign of innocence. The pretense of Samaritan impulses. In her mind she spits in his face. She spits in all of the faces of the strange men on city streets who torture her with their stares. but on her face is the same, slight smile.
I picked up Green Girl after reading Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. In Bad Feminist, Gay wrote an essay on Green Girl, and with that suggestion I started the short novel on my vacation to Cheongsando. Perhaps it was not the right setting for such reading; as soon as I started reading, I felt pretty uncomfortable.
Immediately when we meet Ruth there is such a sense of such self-consciousness and drama. The opening line is “The pull, the blood, the cry. The agony of becoming.” The book is narrated by Ruth’s mother, it seems, though she’s not present in the story but narrates third-person seeing Ruth’s experience as an American living in London.
Ruth is a perfume saleswoman at a large department store she calls “Horrids”, which is a pretty accurate assessment of what it feels like to be in a giant department store. The book revolves around Ruth’s experiences, decisions, and thoughts. Ruth’s self-consciousness left me feeling so awkward, mostly, I think, due to the fact that it’s something I could identify with and didn’t really want to recall.
At times the novel reminded me of a lot of my writing when I was younger, riddled with vague statements leading to deeper meaning. However, I felt it was intentional, like the voice of Ruth herself was coming through, and lent itself to the characterization of Ruth.
She is impressionable. Yet she does not leave an impression. She is like a ghost, a non-thing.
I can’t decide if the book was good, but I certainly left it feeling like something about my experience had been captured even though I didn’t really want it to be. It was discomfiting. At one point, the narrator states:
I am reminded of the Barbie dolls that I played with as a young girl. I would perform the cruelest acts on my lovelies. I would behead them. I would cut off their hair to make them look like Ken. I would sentence their bodies to various torture machines. Perhaps writing for me is an extension of playing with those dolls. Ruth is my doll. I crave to give birth to her and to commit unspeakable acts of violence against her. I feel twinges of joy at her suffering.
Ruth is suffering, but there is a greater message to be had: many women feel the same way. I think the book captured the feeling of displacement and misunderstanding and artificiality that we’ve maybe all experienced at one time or another in our lives. And even though I was uncomfortable, there is some good in that.
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.
“Her fingers begin furiously tapping out a text message while walking. She is a concert pianist manufacturing false sentiments. A novelist of nothing new.”
“What does she want to be? A green girl doesn’t like to consider this question. She already is. She is waiting around to be discovered just for being herself.”
“What is with young women and exclamation points and smiley faces! So afraid of appearing somber, always wanting to appear light and happy and sparkling, even when they are dying inside. Not ever being able to escape the mask that smiles.”
“She just acts. She just reacts.”
“Being a girl is like always being a tourist, always conscious of yourself, always seeing yourself as if from the outside.”