Eleanor Oliphant is definitely not completely fine, but she’s getting along, and sometimes that’s all one can hope for after a tragic childhood. Somehow this book managed to be funny and heartbreaking at the same time. The back cover says “Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking.” And I loved that part of her. Maybe her challenges with social skills means she’s somewhere on the autism spectrum, maybe they’re a result of a tragic childhood, or maybe she just has no filter and says what many of us might want to say but don’t. Like the time a guy in a bar offers to buy her a drink and she refuses because she knows that means she’ll have to sit through at least one more when she has no interest in anything he has to say. Or when she gets a shower invitation and wonders why adults who have been living on their own suddenly get to choose all new kitchenware at their friends’ expense. What have they been using up till that point?
Later the back cover says that the book is a “smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey.” Uplifting? While there are definitely funny moments when she speaks her mind, this is a woman who was abused by her mother, shuffled from foster home to foster home, and is still made fun of as an adult. I’d say it’s the story of a smart, tragic character trying to find her way in the world when she finally meets and makes a friend. And, yes, the way she describes slovenly Raymond, the IT guy at work, is also quite humorous because here again we see exactly what she thinks (from the way he speaks while chewing his food to the gym shoes he wears every day), though she eventually learns to hold such thoughts to herself. In other words, her social skills improve even though her observations remain sharp and her wit in tact.