Greet Andringa. Libben reach.
In 2003 Greet Andringa made her debut as a Frisian writer with her volume of short stories, De diggels fan Che, to critical acclaim. Libben reach (Life's cobwebs) marks her debut as a novelist.
The author's first novel is an ambitious one. In it, Andringa has the main character, Geeske, searching through three generations of the Wiggersma family in a quest for greater self-understanding. It is prompted by her own shocking act of apparent violence to her little daughter: in an impulsive reaction to her child's egregious misbehavior, she gives the child a push down the stairs that lands the child, comatose, in the IC unit of the hospital. With time, the little girl recovers, but mother Geeske's recovery from an attack of self-loathing becomes a long-term process. Devastated by what she has done, she stops by the mirror: "I don't have a moth-eaten bare skull, no flickering green light in the eyes.... This monster looks completely normal and is precisely therefore so repulsive.... Nothing changes and everything changes: it becomes a formless gray swamp in which you lose your way. I don't know her anymore who stares at me in the mirror."
The quest to recover the self she is losing takes Geeske from the sticky cobwebs of her own life into those wound around the lives of grandparents, parents, and cousins: lives tainted and broken with extreme political leanings and prejudices, sexual assault, promiscuity, marital tensions, depression, nervous breakdowns, conflicts, and the postmodern malaise of Geeske's own psychic anxiety. Geeske finds not so much a healing of her own broken self as a revelation that the suffocating cobweb of living has entrapped them all. Needing escape, in the end she discovers that there is no good escape. Within the constraints of the human condition, however, there is still love, whose strands are thicker than the cobwebs, as well as acceptance, and with acceptance a maturity and peace that had eluded her.
Andringa decided to cast this search in the form of fragments, the fragments of Geeske's own life and the lives around her, a collage of fragments that cumulatively yield a truth about living. Thus the literary form simulates the human search for insight. But here it comes at the expense of some aesthetic delight. Though the writer's artful use of language is impressive, the constantly shifting points of view, characters, times, and locales impose considerable strain on the reader's focus and understanding. Pity especially the reader who doesn't discover until the end that there is a helpful family chart in the back of the book. Then, too, the reader experiences the story more as a kind of psychological dissection rather than a humanizing process of revelation and understanding, though the latter seems clearly to have been the author's intention.
Still, though we may turn away with the book's cobwebs clogging our own brain, we may also find ourselves shifting our attention to our own family's web of relationships, tensions, and enigmas. That's not a bad accomplishment.
Henry J. Baron