It is a curious thing how the character we dislike usually represents an aspect of ourselves that we have not looked into or not yet integrated into ourselves. Take for example Colin Singleton, the main protagonist of An Abundance of Katherines. It is the story of a boy named Colin who gets dumped nineteen times by various Katherines. John Green, that wizard with words takes this relatively unremarkable plot and weaves his magic around it, as only he can. Colin, former child prodigy faces tremendous pressure to stay matchless in every pursuit that his parents have him undertake. We have all been there, right? The entire character of Colin Singleton can be pretty much summed up in one excerpt of the book which starts off with a bit of a walk back into the lanes of his childhood, where his genius first begins to show. As he reads a book called The Missing Piece, he does not realise that he too is like the circle with the missing slice. This very habit of knowing but not being able to see is what causes the love of his life, Katherine XIX to part ways with him. This book follows him and his friend Hassan on a sojourn for that missing piece that will make Colin’s broken heart whole again. In other words, heartbreak followed by a road trip and then he hooks up with a girl (whose name is not Katherine, so there is that I suppose). What’s so special about this premise anyway right? It sounds so been there, done that. Indeed, John succeeds so beautifully in creating a character who constantly undermines himself and thinks he has nothing to offer to the world (and the Katherines dwelling in it) except his genius. The only problem, he is a former genius. Even as he goes on this journey to move on or perhaps due to his friend’s coercion, he doesn’t realise that he still sees himself as a former something or someone. Like, the former boyfriend of Katherine XIX, or former child prodigy. It is almost tragicomic, this narration and quite honestly, the first John Green book I was easily able to put down.
Owing to its slow pace and the perceptible dry-ness of the plot, it felt like biting into an old, cold multi-grain sandwich. With the crusts not cut off. Out of sheer determination and a completely undeserved sense of optimism towards the book, I decided to trudge on and see where and how the “hero’s” healing arc would manifest within the writing. Predictably it takes a hot girl, an outlier (is it just me or are there way too many of those nowadays in YA literature?) to bring Colin to his senses, change his perception and in a way, complete his Dumper – Dumpee Theorem as well.
For she may not have his prodigious skill of knowing things which most people would find utterly random (like Nikola Tesla’s romantic fascination with a white pigeon), but her gift is in seeing people. She therefore adds to his theorem, and his life the missing variables required to deem it whole again. An amusing section of the book that I liked was the numerous footnotes, which tell their own story and provide a glimpse not only into the inner workings of Colin’s mind, but also of John Green, the one who gave form and voice to Colin Singleton.
Colin reminded me of an aspect of myself that I would like to happily put behind me, one that makes me blush with mortification now. The part of me that thought I could understand love and be successful in a romantic relationship by conducting a research on successful couples and their secrets. I kid you not, I did carry out surreptitious research (using dubious techniques) and even had a first draft of my “research paper” containing 3700+ words.
It was desperate and slightly funny in a sad, oddball kind of way. Now that I think about it, I didn’t even know the first thing about love. I was going at it from an almost entirely detached angle, discounting emotional variables and how they can constantly be in flux, and therefore not predictable. I did not of course share my insights with my peers (and rightly so) because I did not want to be mocked by them. However, had they been privy to my research, I would have gotten a wealth of data from them as they frequently experienced romantic relationships of varying lengths and intensities, while I… only had my books and a theoretical glimpse, apart from the people I spoke to who were not from my generation. I often looked at my crush and wondered if there was a socially appropriate way that I could ask him what sort of biochemical reactions (if any) he had in my presence, or (like a normal person) I could simply have said “Hey, I like you. Do you like me back?” But of course, that requires guts and I…generally became a strangely unrecognisable version of myself around my crush. The version of me that shook my wrist in his face, and asked him if I had nice wrists. *cringe* You see, I was not entirely comfortable in my skin yet to be able to be myself and know that I’d be liked anyway. I remember a lengthy conversation with him when we spoke about the hormones and chemical reactions responsible for falling in love, the signs of it, while subsequently my mind raced ahead to determine if he had shown any of these signs that he was talking about, either in my presence or that of any other female. He pontificated, as only a *science student* could, and years later… I wonder now if he knew the intent of that conversation.
So finally, once my own perspective on myself and certain other things changed, did things start turning around. Much like they did, for Colin in the book. After which, may be it was just me or perhaps the writing did pick up pace and start moving rapidly, that simmering bond between the two teenage protagonists coming to a boil, culminating in a night of confessions and passions in not-Katherine’s favourite hidey hole, an incredibly dark cave. As a metaphor, it makes perfect sense for how they find each other. Their series of outings and “adventures” can be likened to bumping knees turning into grazing noses as the two kiss.
I am not here to talk about this kiss, but rather for the theme this book addresses in an over arching sort of way. The importance of mattering, of our being here, of wanting to amount to something. Making an impact on the world, or at least our own society/community. These are thoughts that I have been frequently plagued by, of late. The book does not provide the answer to this all important question of course. This fear of fading into oblivion is… I think, something that all of us can relate to whether we think about it constantly and consciously, or fleetingly in moments of despair. But I think we will have had it pretty good if we choose to whom and how we will have mattered.