What is a good novel? Does it have to have beautiful, lengthy prose? Something that has complex sentence structure? How about metaphors, symbolism and all of those other terms we like to toss around in literary circles? Usually, my answer would be yes to all of the above. However, I recently read a book that made me think twice about how I define a good novel.
“Because I am Furniture” by Thalia Chaltes is not a conventional novel. What it lacks in complex sentence structure, it makes up for in thought-provoking material and emotionally charged writing. Written as a series of verse poems, this novel’s protagonist and narrator, Anke, reveals her life in an abusive home. Through a combination of poems, we get bits and pieces of Anke’s life in a home with an abusive father who torments her brother and sister, but virtually ignores Anke.
Though not your typical novel, “Because I am Furniture” is a captivating read that will keep you hooked until the end. Since the novel is written for a younger audience, it is an easy read, but one that you won’t want to put down.
Anke is a real and believable narrator throughout the novel as she describes in detail the emotionally turbulent home in which she lives. She constantly witnesses her father abusing her siblings, but for some reason, is herself saved from the abuse. However, it is soon clear that though she is not the victim of physical violence, she certainly is the victim of emotional and psychological suffering.
Anke is ignored by her father, and though she is thankful to be spared, she is led to question her own self worth. What is so wrong about her that he can’t even waste his time to give her attention, even negative attention?
This is a question that we don’t often hear, but to Anke, is quite important. She is left alone, isolated so deeply from the home in which she lives, that she slowly begins to fade into the background. She doesn’t believe that she is worth anything. She is furniture — something that you are aware of being there, but don’t care enough about to do anything with.
In addition to her questioning her own self worth, Anke also feels a certain level of guilt over her being spared from her father’s violence and anger while everyone else in her household is subject to his wrath. Her guilt is similar to what you hear soldiers undergoing when they have ‘survivor’s guilt.’ She is grateful not to be a victim, but guilty at the same time that others are suffering in her place.
Throughout the novel, she asks herself why she is spared. Why must she sit and watch these events going on around her? Why can’t she stop them from happening? Though these questions are quite important for Anke’s development as a character, we don’t discover their answers until the narrator herself does.
Anke’s journey of self-discovery begins with something as simple as being accepted onto her high school volleyball team. On the team, she isn’t ignored, she isn’t pushed aside for the first time in her life. Rather than feeling the numbing sensation of unimportance, she feels alive and conscious of herself and her actions. She no longer fades into the background, she becomes part of something, she begins to take some control over her own life. Though the transformation is gradual, we eventually see Anke develop a voice of her own — one that won’t accept her role as furniture.
“Because I am Furniture” comes to a climax of events that is completely honest and won’t leave you wanting. Although this novel is not an extraordinary example of beautiful prose or a literary masterpiece, it is still a great read. Thalia Chaltes tells Anke’s story with honesty and simplicity, traits that we too often overlook in today’s society. Chaltes reminds us of what it is like to be vulnerable, to feel lost, and how difficult isolation can be. This novel is a truly inspirational piece of writing that will leave you racing to discover the secrets and insights hidden within its pages.