I remember everything about the first time I read one of my all time favourite books, Tully by Paulina Simons. It was about this time in 2000. In fact, I may have skipped school on Sports Day to read it. (I skipped Sports Day often though, so no biggie.) I have written about Tully before - warning, spoillies, but what I really wanted to talk about was the impact this book has had on my life. No one I know has read Tully, well not to my knowledge although I have recommended it a lot, and fans of PS's writing have pooh-poohed this one until the cows come home.
So, I have written more, with massive spoliers, because otherwise I will keep thinking about Tully and won't be able to sleep.
First up, I will say this: this novel is incredibly overwritten.
The main characters suffer from a case of alliteration (Jen, Julie and Jack - high school friends; Henry, Hedda and Hank - family) and general stereotypical behaviour. It is probably at least 150 pages too long. It doesn't need to span the 20 years this novel does. No one needs to see Tully's terrible poetry, and I am just a little bit scarred from reading the pregnancy and birth bits. Also, why is Tully naked all the time? And always having the sexy time?
That aside, here is what Tully has brought into my life.
When I first read this I was only 14 - I had never been in love (although when you're 14 you're in love all the time, but you know) and I had never had to choose anything other than which school I would go to. When I read and reread these books... every time I felt Tully had chosen the wrong guy. And the wrong guys changed every time I had read it.
"Can't or don't want to?"
"Don't want to."
Almost every time that scene broke my heart.
The tricky thing is that even as a teenager I could see that Tully wasn't really making decisions, she was just doing what came easiest to her. She didn't have to do much to have money and good men come her way, other than just be there. As I grew up and thought through every decision and discussed my choices often, I felt I was drifting away from Tully's Model of Life. I could relate to her, but I also felt deeply sorry for all the really shitty things she went through. It was a little bit too Gothic romance/horror for me sometimes, and my eyes would glaze over.
Now though, there are things that resonate with me, that really didn't before. When Tully starts counting down days until she sees Jack and thinks about making him spaghetti (amongst other things). How she talked Jeremy into leaving Kansas and didn't go with him. How she talks about how they had all these plans and now she doesn't even remember what he looks like. Yes, all of that has been me at one point or another.
Like most things, Tully's relationship with her husband, who she really won by default, baffles me the most. They don't talk which suits both of them quite well to begin with, but, honestly, Robin is a bit of a jerk. As a teenager, and probably well into my twenties, I was Team Jack. Some reasons why:
1. Jack is much hotter than Robin, even if he does creepily say 'why don't you see any blonde middle aged men?' *shudders*
2. Jack and Tully share Jen. Now I think whoop-de-fucking-doo (sorry, that was Tully speaking). Jack was actually a complete tosser to Jen for so many reasons, and this is not a good reason to be team Jack. Things Jack did to Jen include leading her on for years, sleeping with her for no good reason (and something weird about a mirror so they can watch... uhhhh), ignoring her and not actually caring a lot about her friendship, and then despite this, carrying around a note from her in his wallet after she dies. It sounds like Jack and Jen were friends for a short while and then he tried to end it when she got serious about it, but it all went unresolved for a long time. I don't think Jack is responsible for her death, as poor Jen had a whole heap of mental issues on top of her autism, but we are led to conclude that he and Tully believe he is somewhat responsible. Personally I don't accept this in real life and won't accept it in fiction.
3. Jack and Tully talk and do romantic things like dancing on Tully's birthday, rowing boats on secluded lakes and plant rose bushes. And that's when they are just friends. Who hasn't had a friend like that? Yeah, it never ends well. Or it does. And that's why I wanted it to end well for those two.
4. Jack was around when Robin was not. Robin worked all week and played sport all weekend. But this doesn't mean that Robin was a bad guy, he just didn't have the luxury that Jack did - of coming and going whenever he pleased. It's Two Princes all over again, and I always preferred the prince with rockets.
But then I decided I was Team Robin. Who wouldn't love Robin? He had the cool car, he had a temper (but only with good reason), he buys Tully her dream house and owns a successful business. Most of all though, Robin gets that Tully is a completely flawed person and still loves her even though she doesn't love him in return. Of course, Robin does some stupid things too. But be is certainly not Jack, and that is a very good thing.
For me, the logical thing to have done would to be for Tully to make peace with Jack and move on. Jack has some incredibly interesting morals, and it isn't so much that I disapprove of his playboy lifestyle, more that it's not a consistent choice for his character. It seems he has never really cared for any of his girls or girlfriends and, for some reason, is still hung up on a drunk Tully dancing with him while he was also drunk at 16. No no no. Okay, I get it, but for someone who treats people so badly, why would he really care about a lustful minute interlude with someone he didn't remember clearly for a long time? Yes, poetic license, but still.
The tricky thing about all of this is that is Jen didn't die, Tully would have zero interest in Jack and not look at replacing her with him. This is, of course, what happens, and it happens in real life too. I still believe that Tully was a little bit in love with Jen all the same, despite the fact that throughout the book she's portrayed as a raving made hetero babe who dances seductively because no one ever told her it was wrong (the hell?). Of course, argument could be made that Tully sees Jen's life as what she should have had, and wants Jen to take the pleasure she would out of the experience of having doting parents and everything you want in the world.
In some of the worst and best times of my life, I have picked up Tully and read it like a sacred text. For me, aspects and events in Tully's life have, on occasion, mirrored my own with some massive exceptions, namely having crazy parents who are horrible throughout my life. In other ways, Tully has been a constant friend for me and a guide post to show me sometimes things just aren't always what they seem. When I read it for the first time, I felt incredibly exposed to a brand new adult world where the rules only applied if you made them up yourself. And now I know that Tully never wrote any of the rules, she just pretended she did.
I'm going to leave it there because I have assignment work to do, and a sudden an urge to reread Tully again.