Clinton, Cathryn. 2007. The Eyes of Van Gogh.
I hate the first day of school. I always have, but then nine new schools in thirteen years can do that to you. By second grade I was in my third new school, and that doesn’t include the day cares. I read somewhere that the average American family moves every three years. That makes me above average, but somehow it doesn’t make me feel superior at all. (1)
Pain and sadness are homeless beggars in my life, displaced feelings that come and go, plopping down for their own reasons, sleeping in any corner of my brain. They wear at me with a constant tiredness that I have to chase out. (2)
I live in the pencil, the paper, the object that I see gliding from my mind to my hands. It’s a way of seeing that’s mine, my way of defining a world. It’s also a place to live when things are too dismal, too inferior, too tiring--or even too shining, too good. (4)
Jude is our narrator. She is a senior in high school. She is depressed, at times suicidal. She is a moody, sullen artist. She is trying to escape from the harsh realities of her life--her mother’s alcoholic and reckless behavior when it comes to bringing men into their lives. The two--mother and daughter--moved to town when Jude’s grandmother suffered a stroke. The grandmother is now in a nursing home. Jude visits her most days of the week. Even though she can’t speak and makes no indication that she hears or sees her visitor, Jude takes comfort in this relationship. She shapes it to fit her need for stability and love. And really, who can blame her? We all need love; we all need a safe place to go. We all need someone to listen to us. But Jude has other relationships--two friendships and a boyfriend. Jazz (Jasmine) and John Mark are fellow loners, outsiders. Together they have fun, they have laughs. They share their thoughts, their dreams, their hopes. They can be “real” with one another most of the time. The other person in her life is Todd. Todd is a football player. A football player who is also a farmer-in-training. He has spent his whole life on the family farm, and “agriculture” is something that his ‘career’ will involve in one way or another. Jude is hoping and pryaing that Todd is the perfect, ideal boyfriend. That he is there to save her. That he is her Prince Charming. That he can love her and accept her just as she is. That they will spend their whole lives together. That they will grow old and gray together. She is seeing this future together as rock solid as can be. The problem? The Todd of her dreams is not the Todd of reality. I still think it’s not Todd’s fault that she is so disappointed. She has a lot of expectations, a lot of dreams, that aren’t really based on anything he has said and done. Yes, he’s asked her to go bowling. But he’s not asking her to get married. He’s not promising a future. He’s not even saying those three little words--I love you.
What makes Jude a weak narrator--although perhaps a realistic one--is that she completely falls apart when her relationship with Todd disintegrates. I tend to dislike books where girls/teens lose all their “reasons” for living based on a breakup. I suppose it’s natural and realistic for a bit, but when the narrator actually carries out a suicide attempt.....well, it’s a bit disappointing.
Suicide is a theme in the novel. Anytime the narrator has a fixation on playing on the railroad tracks, is a big big indicator that a suicide attempt is upcoming. She is drawn to the train tracks, and she often pictures--imagines--what it would be like to end it all right there on the tracks. She romanticizes suicide. Makes it sound so brave, so noble. She’s also fixated on Vincent Van Gogh. She imagines that they are kindred spirits, tortured souls in need of release. She embraces this depression, this tortured-soul role; She enjoys being miserable. She seeks out the dark side almost. She defines herself in that way. She isn’t reallly trying to cope with reality, trying to get hope. She is enjoying her pain and misery because she thinks it makes her a true artist, a real creative genius.
Depression is common. It is serious. But it is not something that is dealt with effectively here. Jude doesn’t seek help, doesn’t seek treatment, doesn’t let anyone in on the fact that she’s so tortured, so dismally down. And I know that suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts are common as well. This novel is realistic. But it isn’t always an enjoyable journey--realistic as it may be.