Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: "The Unknowns" by Gabriel Roth

When you've spent so much of your life trying to make logical sense of things, bringing order to total chaos, can you apply those same principles to situations where logic doesn't always occur, like romantic relationships?

Computer programmer Eric Muller figured out his knack for computers and writing code fairly early. "I still haven't found anything that keeps anxiety at bay as reliably as coding: the possibilities and ramifications branch outward to colonize all of your available brainspace, and the syntax of the language gives direction to your twitches and impulses and keeps them from firing off into panic."

While he reveled in his skills, his desire to be accepted and find a girlfriend often outweighed his intellect. And when he tried using his intellect to conquer the "girlfriend issue," disastrous consequences ensued. So Eric realized that the well-placed sensitive comment, remembering certain things his dates said and using them in future questions and comments (to show he was listening), and demonstrating his sense of humor were all keys to some success, even if his insecurity often got the best of him. And despite the fact that he and a friend sold their internet startup company for millions of dollars, his confidence often wavered.

When he meets Maya Marcom, an intelligent, driven, and beautiful reporter, all bets are off. Eric keeps waiting for Maya to see through him, to realize his flaws or that he's still the same insecure, geeky computer nerd he was growing up as their relationship intensifies. Yet when he finds out a secret about Maya's past, he isn't sure how to handle that within the confines of their relationship, and approaching this problem like coding doesn't help matters any. Couple that uncertainty with issues regarding his estranged father, who is again searching for the ultimate business deal, and trouble is definitely on the horizon.

"What part of anyone is knowable?," Eric asks. How does a person who can only see the black and white of code when it works or doesn't work accept the uncertain greys of a relationship? Can you truly take a leap of faith and believe what the person you love tells you, or do you have to somehow prove it to yourself?

The Unknowns tries to answer those questions through the awkwardly lovable persona of Eric Muller. He is certainly a flawed character, yet you can mostly understand his insecurity and uncertainty, as it is rather deep-seated. And you find yourself rooting for his relationship with Maya to work. But while I totally understood what motivated him, I was really unsettled with one action he took, and it nearly made me stop caring about him and what happened to him. And that was a little disappointing, although Gabriel Roth's storytelling ability, and his depiction of Eric's life, was tremendously skilled and appealing.

This is a book about learning to trust your instincts when you're completely conditioned to act differently. It's also a love story about two people desperately trying to trust one another and overcome insecurity. And like love itself, it's not perfect, but it's enjoyable to experience.

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