Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Insist on Yourself

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti
4Q 4P J/S

When I first started reading about Indigo Skye, she made me think of Joan Bauer's Hope in Hope Was Here and Jenna in Rules of the Road. All three characters share a joy in their jobs and a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing they do the job well. Indigo and Hope are both waitresses. Indigo doesn't understand why people think it's okay to work as a waitress but not to be a waitress. She loves waitressing so much that she would happily make it her lifelong career, much to her mother's consternation. As far as Indigo is concerned, waitressing is about giving nourishment and creating relationships, not just about bringing the ketchup. As a result, Indigo is quite invested in the lives of the regulars at Carrera's, and they are equally invested in hers. It's a tragedy when Trina has to sell her car. When she finds Leroy by the side of the road dressed in an outlandish costume, she wants to know why. They all burn when Nick is taunted by coworkers who think it's funny to call him Killer. In short, they care for each other at Carrera's.

Maybe that's why the Vespa guy intrigues them so much. It's immediately clear that he's not the type they usually get at the diner. It's not just that the clothes he wears mark him as someone far too well-off to frequent a diner. It's the way he comes in and orders "just coffee" and then sits alone at a table staring out the window. He does this day after day, refusing to be drawn into the easy camaraderie the rest of them share. Though they're dying to know his story, Indigo and the regulars respect his obvious wish to be left alone. That is, they do until Indigo spots the cigarettes on his table and reams into him for being a smoker and ruining his health and the health of those around him. In most cases, Indigo's little tirade would cause the customer to demand to see the manager. It might even have cost her her job. But Indigo doesn't lose her job. Instead, she becomes 2.5 million dollars richer practically overnight.

Indigo has been very happy with her life up to this point. She loves her mother, sister, and her twin brother. She has a boyfriend she's crazy about and who is crazy about her in return. The fact that none of them has any money to speak of has never been a significant problem. But $2 million will change anyone's life, and not always for the better. Before she knows it, her job is in jeopardy, she's barely speaking to her boyfriend, and she doesn't know who she is anymore.

I love Deb Caletti's writing. It's not just that she creates interesting three-dimensional characters I enjoy reading about and think I'd like to know or that she puts them in interesting situations (some of which I can relate to better than others). I like her writing. She knows how to turn a phrase. I find sentence after sentence that are evocative, telling, and immensely satisfying. She has the ability to make you laugh and think in the same sentence. That could be said about this whole book, though it's a book with humor, not necessarily a humorous book. Mostly, it's a book about caring about people and about discovering and staying true to what's important to you.


You can tell a lot about people from what they order for breakfast. Take Nick Harrison, for example. People talk about him killing his wife after she fell down a flight of stairs two years ago, but I know it's not true. Someone who killed his wife would order fried eggs, bacon, sausage -- something strong and meaty. I've never served anyone who's killed his wife for sure, so I don't know this for a fact, but I can tell you they wouldn't order oatmeal with raisins like Nick Harrison does...I once heard someone say you can destroy a man with a suspicious glance, and I'm sure they're right. Nick Harrison was cleared of any charges, and still he's destroyed. Oatmeal with raisins every day means you've lost hope. (p. 1)

People like to have something to turn down, though. They want to be able to say no to some things, because it makes their yes more meaningful. Even if that's just scrambled instead of poached or fried, wheat and not sourdough or rye. And "no" -- it's also a handy, accessible mini-capsule of power. Maybe you can't destroy your asshole boyfriend, but you can at least reject apple crumble pie. (p. 25)

What I am is happy. And maybe that's the closest definition for the word we can get, a life equation: an absence of wanting equals happiness. (p. 44)

Her room is a technological amusement park -- TV, DVD, computer, stereo, video games. Apparently, this way you could watch anything you wanted all by yourself in your own room, nudging yourself at the funny parts and telling yourself to be quiet because you couldn't hear when you were talking. (p. 55)

In my opinion? It's fine to have a reasonable amount of self-doubt. Maybe it's even necessary to avoid being an obnoxious human being. Cavemen did not do affirmations. Pilgrims fighting disease and freezing temperatures did not focus on eliminating the negative self-talk. The dusty and disheveled folks trudging on the Oregon Trail made it without one-year and five-year goals tacked to the insides of their covered wagons. I don't think they even had self-esteem in those days. (pp. 55-56)

The willingness to embrace the idea of "a surprise" is dependent on our past surprises being good ones. Maybe this is obvious, but I don't think so. Pessimism and caution and cynicism and the inability to be spontaneous are character flaws to those who've had good fortune, and common sense to those who haven't. (P. 111)

I guess forgiveness, like happiness, isn't a final destination. You don't one day end up there and get to stay...It's in and out, like the surf...Sometimes forgiveness is so far away you can barely imagine its possibility, and other times, surprising is a sudden, unexpected visitor who stays briefly before moving on. (p. 138)

We are swayed too much, (Emerson) said, by the wrong things, by what each other has, not what each other is. We must be nonconformists, he wrote. We must think for ourselves, because the only sacred thing is the integrity of our own minds. Insist on yourself, he said. (p. 276)