The Architecture of Love oleh Ika Natassa

Ika Natassa
The Architecture of Love
Gramedia Pustaka Utama
301 halaman

New York mungkin berada di urutan teratas daftar kota yang paling banyak dijadikan setting cerita atau film. Di beberapa film Hollywood, mulai dari Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail hingga Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, New York bahkan bukan sekadar setting namun tampil sebagai "karakter" yang menghidupkan cerita.

Ke kota itulah Raia, seorang penulis, mengejar inspirasi setelah sekian lama tidak mampu menggoreskan satu kalimat pun.

Raia menjadikan setiap sudut New York "kantor"-nya. Berjalan kaki menyusuri Brooklyn sampai Queens, dia mencari sepenggal cerita di tiap jengkalnya, pada orang-orang yang berpapasan dengannya, dalam percakapan yang dia dengar, dalam tatapan yang sedetik-dua detik bertaut dengan kedua matanya. Namun bahkan setelah melakukan itu setiap hari, ditemani daun-daun menguning berguguran hingga butiran salju yang memutihkan kota ini, layar laptop Raia masih saja kosong tanpa cerita.

Sampai akhirnya dia bertemu seseorang yang mengajarinya melihat kota ini dengan cara berbeda. Orang yang juga menyimpan rahasia yang tak pernah dia duga.

In her latest effort, The Architecture of Love, Ika Natassa puts her most readable book yet, lessens her trademarked narration that tends to mention tongue-twisting brands, and does not flaunt her characters' opulence and aristocratic behavior. Even if her hubris in blabbering Jeopardy-esque trivias is still there, The Architecture of Love is an ode for writers, especially female writers, out there--and that's something that needs appreciation.

When I reviewed some of the best songs in 2015, Destroyer's "Times Square" easily struck as one of the best songs last year. In "Times Square", Bejar, Destroyer's real name, a Canadian himself, can't deny the charm of New York, and Times Square in particular, emphasizing the wondrousness of the city three times in his album, Poison Season, for people who just move to the Big Apple for the first time. I cannot agree more with Bejar. New York City--despite the noises and rambunctiousness--is a cinematic and romantic city where everyone's hopes melt in one place. And The Architecture of Love conveys the mutual feeling where hopes and love can be found in the corner of New York City's streets--which is really good of Natassa. 

Compared to her first novel that she's written when she's 19, Underground--both take place in New York--The Architecture of Love definitely shows much more maturity. But in terms of the New York's setting, The Architecture of Love is much more lively than Underground where Natassa shows us another side of New York (the city and the state), the inconspicuous part of the city (and the state) that's rarely shone by Hollywood movies' spotlight. Natassa breathtakingly describes the obscure places in New York that also contribute to the charm of New York--like it or not--proving that the city has still more to offer other than Liberty Statue, Times Square, or inside the 30 Rockefeller Plaza. New York in The Architecure of Love is an idyllic place and Natassa' love of the city is clearly shown in the book where she describes excessively about the city. But, that's alright. I fall in love with the city as well. 

Another surprising thing that I never expect it will come from Ika Natassa is how personal The Architecture of Love is. Raia, the female main character of the book, is a successful author who goes through writer's block who moves to New York with a hope that she can cure her writer's block. Raia herself is so successful that she always gets praises in her Twitter accounts and not bad reviews in Goodreads, the movie adaptation of her book is so spectacular that it earns Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, and her pre-order for her books are sold out in the matter of hours. Raia--I can't help but think of someone--seems like the embodiment of Natassa, where Natassa infuses a little part of herself in Raia. Somehow, it's like the smoothest version of bragging and the epitome of humblebrag, but of course Natassa has every right to brag: the movie adaptation rights for her books are queuing as long as people who stay tuned in front of their laptop to get the pre-order for her latest books. It may sometimes annoy her readers how she portrays Raia in the book, especially there are tons of writers out there who are struggling and not as prosperous as herself, but that's why it feels so personal; because it comes from Natassa's real experience. From Raia's perspective as well, we can see Natassa's view of the female writers and the real travail and pain of writing process, which is really insightful and resonant--something that I can't believe it can come from Natassa. 

I get to give credit where it's due. Teguh Wicaksono's, the partnership lead of Twitter Indonesia, idea of using Twitter's latest feature, Twitter poll, is a brilliant one. Ika Natassa herself is no stranger with Twitter, a platform where she interacts with tons of her readers and where she makes a contemporary epistolary from Twitter's timeline in Twivortiare--not a groundbreaking concept, but still new at the time. It's no wonder when Natassa decides to write a story based on a poll, she and her readers become strong force in Twitter's timeline. After reading the polling, though, the questions may be frivolous and the answers are predictable because of "bad choices" Natassa put to drive her readers to her way, still it's something fresh and I must appreciate Wicaksono and Natassa for this. 

But Ika Natassa is still Ika Natassa. Her characters are still patterned, with a different occupation. Raia is still a successful and beautiful woman in her late twenties, and River, her male counterpart, channels his inner River Phoenix is a brooding, taciturn, hot, and successful man in his early thirties. It's what people call selling-dreams books, but people still want to buy dreams and I can see why these types of characters are overly used and violated. In a way, they both remind me a lot of the couple from Critical Eleven. The problems are different, but they have the same vibe. The plot also has same taste where people have to rekindle with their past. In a way,The Architecture of Love is Critical Eleven that takes place in New York and with different characters' name. And Ika Natassa is still Ika Natassa. Even if the names of the brands have shrunk (it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, but what can you expect from metropop) and the characters seem much more modest despite their wealthiness, Natassa still keeps her intention to blab unnecessary trivias that's exhausting. It's cool to get one or two new knowledge from the book, but Natassa seems to hardly know when she has to stop her incessant those-so-called trivias. When she describes the significance of first sentence, for example, one or two examples will be nice, but she then gives us more than we can take and it makes me, "Whoa! Chill out dude." And it happens quite often. In addition, the problems with The Architecture of Love come after the second half of the book where the flow of the book is disrupted by the confusing timeline, the sudden change of point of view from omniscient third to first--which unnecessary because we don't get any new insight from this first point of view that cannot be achieved from omniscient third; it's goddamn omniscient, the faster pace, and the names of the brands start to appear like wild Pokémon. Still, I feel that The Architecture of Love is fifty pages longer than it should be. But gladly, the ending is justifiable and satisfying and good, another surprise from Natassa. 

Well, The Architecture of Love is probably Natassa's most readable and "humble" book yet. It still hasn't offered something new to the tray, but this kind of innovation of how this book is written and how fast this book is sold, somehow make me believe that Indonesian book industry still has hope--and just like New York's, I hope those hopes will never flicker.
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