Mona Gray has issues. She has remarkable facility with numbers, feeling each in a multi-sensory way, yet numbers can also be terrible omens of serious harm to those around her. She also fears that her success will cause terrible outcomes, so she quits everything she loves, from sports to relationships. So she keeps to herself, trapped in the elaborate net of rituals and tics that temporarily keep her intense anxieties at bay.
Mona stumbles onto a position teaching elementary math in her tiny hometown, and slowly makes personal connections after years of shielding herself from life. As her relationship with one child mirrors the neurosis-driven patterns of love and illness she learned from her own father, Mona starts to challenge her compulsions.
The plot is flimsy and some readers quibble that it’s unrealistic. Who hands a public teaching job to an uncertified nineteen-year-old? Why would someone force soap down her throat whenever she feels intimate towards another person? But trapping us in Mona’s narrow lens is Bender’s point. As a person who has experienced compulsions, I thought Bender accurately narrated such raw, irrational internal processes, which feel so inevitable. And the writing is entrancing. Although I thought Bender wrapped it up a little too neatly at the end, I generally liked this book.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. (Yes, this review is backlogged from 2013.) Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.