BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Sky Isn’t Blue’ by Janice Lee
I admit, this book took some time for me to finish, but in my defense, it’s not the type of book you just devour in one sitting. It’s more of a nibble book; a bite here, a bite there – the better to savor the flavor.
In brief, the book is about the author’s relationships with others in her life, both living and dead, and her relationship with herself. She questions her place amongst the land of the living, but doesn’t quite wish to join the realm of the dead…not quite. She seems adrift, this author; her emphasis on the color of the sky–not always blue, that is–and the symbolism therein reveals a soul in pain, who feels the loss of her mother very keenly, and who is adrift, like a cloud in a not-blue sky. There are many things to love about this book but here are a few of my favorites:
The treatment of language throughout. For instance, Lee writes, “You can drive to numerous points, hike up to numerous vistas, every view of the city completely different, differing psychological standpoints, differing hierarchies of places, the growth and manifestation of a strange perspective of a city that you occupy, pedunculated beaks of birds that caw behind you.” The language is rich with vernacular without being verbose; it weaves simplicity with complexity in a rich tapestry.
The book is consistent. The sky is tied in with the various strings of story and reflection throughout. I love a book that can take an image, a concept, or a phrase and use it as symbolism, a title, and a theme all in one, without boring the reader. In The Sky Isn’t Blue, Lee manages to imbue the one constant, the sky, with several meanings, to create a totem out of its fathomless expanse, and to cause the reader to examine his or her own relationship with what the sky symbolizes.
The Sky Isn’t Blue is relatable. The author writes about death and suicide, relationships with others, and a sense of self from a point of view which many humans, and women in particular, can relate to, empathize with, and cry out, “YES! Exactly!” when they read these lines. Sometimes, The Sky Isn’t Blue causes the reader to shout these words aloud while sitting on the couch, or at their desk at work, or in line at the library. Fortunately, the prose is so engaging, the reader is often oblivious to the side-eyed glances and muttered, “Nutjob” insults from other patrons, coworkers, and family members.
With that said, there are some things that drove me crazy about this book. The insistence of italicized words where they were not needed for emphasis, for instance. The Dogs section contained some unnecessarily repetitive phrasing, for another. Perhaps my biggest bone of contention was that much of the book contained the words of other authors or artists, rather than further exploration of the author’s platform.
Yet, this is the type of book where I found myself repeating sections or lines in my head when I was at random moments of my day. In the checkout line of the grocery store, I repeated, “One version of reality, of course, is that the sky is blue” to a befuddled clerk. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys philosophical conversations with oneself, who enjoys reading books which creep into their subconscious and demands they ask themselves why things are the way they are.