Honestly, I was a bit biased when I embarked upon “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green. So far I had read 2 of his books and I found them both ethereal. “The Fault in Our Stars” is one of my ultimate all-time favourites and actually the very first book in my life I found so compelling that I read it 3 consecutive times. “Looking for Alaska” isn’t lagging far behind. It is one of those books that should be devoured. What I admired most in both of them was not only the absence of the customary dichotomy between tragedy and comedy but their incredible symbiosis. I mean, those two books were hilarious but nonetheless, they made me weep buckets. When Augustus Waters… ok, I am going to restrain myself and not spoil the book for you!
On the other hand, though, “An Abundance of Katherines” had nothing morbid and poignant about it except that the protagonist Colin Singleton, a teenage prodigy and would-be genius, has been dumped 19 times in a roll by 19 different girls all named Katherine. “Not Katrina, not Kathy, not Katie, not Trina – K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E.” I guess, everyone has a weird fetish of their own. I like only boys made up of ink and words so I am not going to be presumptuous or anything, but there is nothing heart-wrenching, dour or grim about Colin’s preposterous dating history. It’s downright pathetic!
I was quite disappointed with the book the first hundred pages probably because pivotal issues were relationships, meant-to-be love, self-deprecating devotion, happily-ever-afters and more jiggery-pokery of the same sort. I considered giving it up a few times but I persevered due to the author’s name and his inimitable humour, and I am so glad I did.
“Lindsey coughed, mumbled, “Bullshit,” and then coughed again. Hollis’s eyes grew wide. “Lindsey Lee Wells, you put a quarter in the swear jar right this minute!”
“Shit,” Lindsey said. “Dick. Craptastic.”
She glided over to the fireplace mantel, and placed a dollar bill in a glass Mason jar.
“Don’t have any change, Hollis,” she said. “
The first time we meet Colin he is lying on the carpet in his bedroom, wallowing in self-pity until his best and only friend Hassan, a devoted Muslim, bursts in and comes up with the ridiculous suggestion of a road trip. Of course, laden with a broken heart and shattered dreams, Colin disagrees. “We’re on a road trip. It’s about adventure,” apparently this isn’t convincing enough for a teenage prodigy, who craves to matter, to snap out of his defeatism, and become blithe and enthusiastic about the trivial side of life that ordinary people, like you and me, savour. However, soon enough (around 150 pages later) he is going to realize that “Like it or not, road trips have destinations.” From a geographic perspective, the road trip takes them to the Eternal Resting Place of the Archeduke Franz Ferdinand where they encounter the convivial Lindsey Lee Wells. From a philosophical perspective, they go on a journey into the inexorable depths of the intractable soul where the meaningfulness of their purpose in life would be tested. The indolent Hassan would come to question his strong belief in permanent idleness, whereas the sanctimonious Colin would ascertain that there are countless variations of eminence. Their voyage of self-discovery is effulgent, and I am grateful that I could accompany them as they came to terms with who they are and who they want to be.
I was extremely impressed by the subtle idea that all antitheses not merely coexist but are compatible. It starts off with people’s idiosyncrasies and beliefs – Colin being a Jew, Hassan being a Muslim. But then it spreads its intangible tentacles and applies a meaning to the whole wide world. Day begets night. Inhalation begets exhalation. And the most brilliant of all paradoxes, life begets death. Although Epicurus once sagaciously expounded that: “Death does not concern us because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.”, I believe that Death is under no conditions restrained to its unknown domain of probable heaven and hell. I think it envelops us like a gray mist, bristling with elusive memories of late relatives and subdued adulation of bygone greatness. It reminds us that we are as fragile and ephemeral as dandelions on a windy spring day and this constant evocation of our transience somehow makes life on a daily basis more precious.
Furthermore, future begets past. It’s unperceivable and shocking to think that the bright, brimful of hope, dreams and joy, future will actually be the doom of us, our acknowledged existence and our cravings. (I had a hard time coming to grips with that) “If the future is forever, he thought, then eventually it will swallow us all up. Even Colin could only name a handful of people who lived, say, 2,400 years ago. In another, 2,400 years, even Socrates, the most well-known genius of that century, might be forgotten. The future will erase everything – there’s no level of fame or genius that allows you to transcend oblivion. The infinite future makes that kind of mattering impossible.”
I already disagreed with the prominent Epicurus, so I think I have the brass to disagree with a fictional prodigy as well. “In this world, Colin figured, you’re best of staying with your kind.” The difference and diversity of one’s traits and personalities are reflected in ourselves. I mean, the fact that such adversaries like past and future, life and death are cheek by jowl proves that everything in this world is intricately connected and of use in some twisted way. “But I always wonder about that. If people could see me the way I see myself – if they could live in my memories – would anyone, anyone, love me?” I used to be scared that if anyone dropped by my inner world, they would break out, screaming and screeching at the top of their voice. However, now I figure that they would probably end up realizing how much more in common we have than they could have possibly imagined.
I could go on talking about this book forever. There are so many things I haven’t told you but I am worried that you would have to fathom them out on your own as you join Colin and Hassan on their marvelous road trip where they get to know one another and themselves, and perhaps you would discover something about yourself as well, while running along with them away from a feral pig and a swarm of hornets.