Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (11): Tim by Colleen McCullough ★★★★★

Tim Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader.

Wow... There is so much that I want to say about this book, and I don't know if I will really be able to do it all justice. I think I'm just going to go for my tried and true method and just ask you to tag along with my ramblings... Hopefully it will make sense at the end. :)

On the surface, "Tim" is a story of an unlikely relationship between a child-like 25 year old mentally retarded man, the title character, and a 43 year old straight-laced and emotionally distant spinster, Mary Horton. Naturally, their relationship is mutually beneficial, with each of them teaching the other how to live.

But the surface story, while absolutely moving and beautiful, is just the bottom layer of the cake. McCullough supplements that base with layer upon layer of detail and depth and insight and truth. While the finished product by another author may have been a tasty and even nice looking cake, in McCullough's expert hands it's something too amazing to actually mar by eating it. You want to keep this cake. You want to cherish it and remember every beautiful detail of it.

We're introduced to Tim, and from the beginning he's impossible not to love and want to protect. Tim's child-like innocence is what really broke my heart. He is tricked and fooled by his "friends", and is upset afterward, but not because he was tricked. His is not a knee-jerk reaction to being laughed at that causes him distress, it is the fact that he knows that he is not able to understand WHY he is being laughed at that distresses him. He seeks acceptance and understanding and love just like we all do.

All of us, that is, except Mary Horton. From the age of 14, she struggled and worked hard on her own to make a life for herself. Unfortunately, due to having a very hard childhood, her idea of "life" is one devoid of any personal relationships. She's never had a boyfriend, never wanted one, doesn't have any personal friends, and her only pleasures are solitary ones, her successes are material ones.

After a chance meeting with Tim, who fascinates her simply because of his sheer attractiveness, they each begin to fill a hole in the other person's life that neither knew they had. This isn't recognized until much later, but it warmed my heart to see them teaching each other what life is really about.

McCullough's descriptions of emotion and perception of the world is amazing. I'm not sure I've ever read anything like it. Her way with words is brilliant. It's like she's imparting secrets that you already knew, but just couldn't understand because the words are just words without MEANING. Even sitting here writing this, I'm at a loss to describe just what it is that touched me so deeply, but I'm close to tears just thinking about the way that she makes simple concepts turn into life-altering truths.

But more than that, she made me think of things in a way that I would never have thought of before. For instance, at one point when Tim is sleeping, Mary ponders what his dreams are like: Did he venture forth as limited in his nocturnal wanderings as he was during his waking life, or did the miracle happen which freed him from all his chains?

I had to stop and think about this. On the one hand, dreaming that you are not fettered by a mental handicap would lend the dreams a wonderful freedom, but on the other, I would imagine that waking up to realize that that freedom was only an illusion would be torture day after day. So, I hope that is not the case.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about McCullough's writing was its vividness. Her characters are just ALIVE and jump off the page. Their local slang and way of speaking had me laughing even while I had tears in my eyes, because while the phrases they use are hilarious, what they are actually saying is true in any language.

The characters are memorable, and none of them, not one, pulls any punches. I love that they say what they mean, and mean what they say. Brutally honest, perhaps, but if what needs to be said is important enough, sometimes it takes a brutal delivery to make it sink in.

I also loved the little snippets of Australian life and culture we get to see. I love reading about other cultures and people, and the only thing that I wish was extended was the small section dealing with the Australian bush. I wanted to see the people and find out how Mary would interact with them.

Anyway. I loved this book. I'm immensely glad that I read it, and can safely say that I will soon be reading much, much more of McCullough's writing.

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