Review: Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

6413788Last Night I sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Published by: Cinco Puntos Press
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Rating: 4
Date Read: 01/10/2016

Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive – well, what’s up with that?

I have it in my head that when we’re born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people’s hearts he writes Happy and on some people’s hearts he writes Sad and on some people’s hearts he writes Crazy on some people’s hearts he writes Genius and on some people’s hearts he writes Angry and on some people’s hearts he writes Winner and on some people’s hearts he writes Loser. It’s all like a game to him. Him. God. And it’s all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don’t like God very much. Apparently he doesn’t like me very much either.

Some people have dogs. What do I have? I have dreams I don’t want to remember. I have two roommates named Rafael and Sharkey. And I have a monster and a therapist named Adam. What happened to me that I couldn’t just have a dog like normal people?

After reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, I had to read more of this author’s work. And so, we have Last Night I Sang to the Monster, detailing the time in rehab spent by 18-year old Zach, who is an alcoholic with a traumatic past and cannot remember how or why he got there.

“I’ve lived eighteen years in a season called sadness where the weather never changed. I guess I believed it was the only season I deserved. I don’t know how but something started to happen. Something around me. Something inside me. Something beautiful. Something really, really, beautiful.”

Zach finds himself in a rehabilitation facility with no memory of his past. He struggles with the monster living in his dreams and inhabiting his thoughts. There are people that help him though – like his therapist Adam, who is always the optimist, and his roommate Rafael, a 53-year-old man with the eyes of a young boy. Through his time at the treatment centre he tries to conquer his isolation and vanquish his fear of the monster.

“You know, Zach, I think sometimes we fall in love with our monsters.”

Eighteen-year-old Zach suffers from alcoholism and anxiety and doesn’t remember anything what he is doing in a rehabilitation. He doesn’t want to remember because remembering hurts him a lot.

What did being connected to the world get you? It got you sadder. Look, the world is not sane. If you stay connected to an insane world, well, you just go crazy. This is not a complicated theory. It’s just simple logic.

Benjamin Alire Saenz didn’t shy away to vividly write the anguish of those troubled people. Saenz took us to an emotional and beautiful journey not just to witness but to feel all the emotions, remorse, hope, love of these different people who go through a lot. And he also didn’t forget to add LGBT element to the story though we know that it’s not really what the book’s intention is. But there’s still a tug when Zach remembers Sam, the guy who really likes him, but Zach didn’t show any interest to him or to any girls or guys alike.

What did being connected to the world get you? It got you sadder. Look, the world is not sane. If you stay connected to an insane world, well, you just go crazy. This is not a complicated theory. It’s just simple logic.

The things that bothered me had to do with character and plotting. Part of this comes from Zach’s situation: there’s a muted, flattened affect in the narration because he’s determined not to feel anything and a lot of vagueness in what he narrates because he’s determined not to remember anything. But somehow, as the novel progresses, it undercuts its own drama.

“I lived in pain because I chose to live in pain. Somewhere along the line, I fell in love with the idea of tragedy, the idea that I was destined to live a tragic life.”

Also, I get that Zach’s self-esteem issues keep him from seeing himself as others can see him, but I had trouble swallowing all the well-meaning interventions, not just by Zach’s therapist, but also by many of his fellow addicts. This was least convincing in one particular case, which illustrates in part my broader objection. One of Zach’s roommates, Sharkey, quits the facility, only to be replaced by Amit, who functions virtually identically to Sharkey in Zach’s life.

Now, the similarity of their characters is bad enough: both are sleepwalking coke addicts with street smarts, sharp attitudes, and a passion for sunglasses and shoes. But what really gets me is that there is nothing that motivates Amit’s concern for Zach. He shows up, and suddenly he’s all caring and concerned. It’s as if Amit has just taken over Sharkey’s role.

Zach’s struggle to love other people and to feel that vulnerability, as well as self-love, is one that connects to everyone’s lives.

“All my friends thought I was a very happy human being. Because that’s how I acted- like a really happy human being. But all that pretending made me tired. If I acted the way I felt, then I doubt my friends would have really hung out with me. So the pretending wasn’t all bad. The pretending made me less lonely. But in another was, it made me more lonely because I felt like a fraud. I’ve always felt like a fake human being.”

The author has such an authentic narrative voice – you really get inside the mind of the characters. I love the way Saenz portrayed the process of recovery. This book is just such a beautiful story. I cannot stress enough how I adore Saenz’s style of writing. And the characters he creates are really vivid.

“Okay is just a word I use so I won’t have to talk about what’s inside. Okay is a word that means I am going to keep my secrets.”

There is some beautiful dialogue, heart-warming connections, spine-chilling family histories and utterly depressing reminders of just how cruel humans can be. This is a thoughtful novel. A very melancholy novel with an uplifting message about alcoholism and self-esteem.

What did being connected to the world get you? It got you sadder. Look, the world is not sane. If you stay connected to an insane world, well, you just go crazy. This is not a complicated theory. It’s just simple logic.

 

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