There is a part of me that believes I might give this book the benefit of the doubt... a two and a half seems fair, or at least some scratch above theThere is a part of me that believes I might give this book the benefit of the doubt... a two and a half seems fair, or at least some scratch above the two-star mark. I've always felt a rating system that doesn't allow for halves, or at least go to ten, to give a wider gradation, is a bit unfair. Every book is potentially vastly different from the next, and how I feel about two books of similar quality is going to be equally different. Factoring in questions of avant-garde, difficult-yet-important, books-you-are-meh-about-but-see-the-greater-worth-of, and books-you-loved-but-are-hesitant-to-praise-because-you-accept-and-noticed-their-flaws, some wider grading system is necessary.
But before I Calvino all over this review, let us discuss Lemon, which is not strictly good or bad. There are moments where the prose drifts into something sublime, bits where the tensions twist into something one can feel from across the page, decided humor in the absurdity. But at the end of the book, it is a story about a lemon fetish.
If this sounds weird to you, you are human.
Now, far be it from me to condone the faulty logic that a fetish is beyond deviant, a proclivity that can only be spawned from a mind warped past recognition. We as a society have fostered that chestnut for far too long. But there are still some things which, quite rationally, should still sound odd, and I should hope that human/vegetation love/eroticism will remain one of them for at least a bit longer. The point being, the book does itself incredibly few favors when it comes to relatability.
That is, quite literally, what the book becomes by section II. Navel gazing over the subject of a lemon. Metaphysical rambling about the fruit. Waxing poetic, like the most frivolous Petrarchan blazon, the lemon standing in for Beatrice or Julia or Dulcinea or whoever. We see strained human relationships. We see irresponsible, crazy behavior. We are never told to find the relationship normal, yet asked to accept it as serious. That tends to be a lot to ask, even if some of the best scenes are when Wendell is torn between the rational world and his deep-seated love affair with the citrus. When the book ends with very little story having happened, we are left solely with heavy theoretical reflection on the nature of lemon, lemon as symbol for all. It's not a device which stands up.
Added to this are the plot points which never fully resolve: Wendell's obliviousness to his co-workers' advances, the importance he assigns to high-minded discussion and thought, though we never see him give the same thought to anything but a lemon (and for that matter, there's that love for music, so central early on but little more than a footnote, an excuse to abandon a date for a lemon, and a passion we do not see again). Most frustrating is Wendell's allergic reaction. It comes as his obsession begins, and simply becomes part of the furniture of the character. There is no reason given for why it began, no obvious links... his face was puffy just because it could be. When the swelling goes down, it doesn't usher a real change. There is no hint of symbolism. It is a hefty plot point created for no obvious reason. Little things like this make the book irritating... the questions that, when answered, make you regret thinking they were really questions. The text is consumed by lemon imagery, much as Wendell's mind is. This may well be what Krauser intends, but it comes at the decided detriment of the book itself. We are left with a story which is not only one-note, but the note itself is too discordant to grip us....more
Reading "More than Human" felt like reading the Fountainhead in some ways. more on that when I post about that one. For now, though, we have SturgeonReading "More than Human" felt like reading the Fountainhead in some ways. more on that when I post about that one. For now, though, we have Sturgeon and his text, which comes across as nothing so much as a resounding rejection of Rand.
The similarities begin, of course, with Lone. He, like Roark, puts people ill at ease. His chosen name sets him up as a Roark figure, alone against the world. His "idiocy" makes him unable to compromise, much as Roark chooses the same. He is an individual in the most complete sense. His encounters with Miss Kew echo Roark's with Dominique. Sturgeon even has the same word-fixations: his "gestalt" is Rand's "bromide" and "altruism". While Sturgeon has some tricky passages of inner monologue, his language is mostly one of economy, much as Rand's evokes.
The difference, of course, is content. Nevermind that one is sci-fi and the other supposedly realist. The topic matter being so at odds is what really hammered home the possibility that the one could be response to the other. Sturgeon posits that some people have powers beyond normal (hence the title). With these powers combined (and thankfully decades before Captain Planet), they could be unstoppable. Much as Roark was unstoppable purely because he'd never have given up. Where Sturgeon digresses, though, is that in the end, he postulates that a moral and ethical code are the building blocks of humanity. Even an all powerful entity, ostensibly more than human, is less than human without a sense of right and wrong, and truly powerful only when they know how to justly wield the power. This isn't really a spoiler as such, despite ending the text, but it is an integral theory. We should work internally in groups that make us better than we would be alone, but without extrapolating that work to interact with and even, when possible, better humanity, we are nothing.
In our current culture here in America, this is nice to see affirmed.
Past this, Sturgeon paints an unsettling picture well. There's always a tension, a warped underbelly to the scenes, the way camera angles or lens filters can make a film shot look a bit eerier without being obvious. There is the sort of excitement we get from all "superhero" concepts, but also incredible pain expressed... these are sad histories that intersect. In that way it's exultant, hearing how the stories resolve into the bigger story of the book. The numerous narratives started a bit overwhelming, where there were too many threads without resolution, too many snippets of exposition that didn't seem related. As things linked, though, everything became clearer. the three different narrative styles for each "chapter" also added to the mystery. All in all a total worthwhile read....more
The White Tiger is one of those novels where the narrator is wholly unreliable. It's not that we don't believe what happens, but we can't be sure abouThe White Tiger is one of those novels where the narrator is wholly unreliable. It's not that we don't believe what happens, but we can't be sure about the peripherals. And that is why he is so compelling.
Balram, the narrator, tells us the story of his rise to success, and like any good rise to success, there's a hardscrabble youth, an extensive period of being a slave to a wage, and finally the break-out of genius that sets him apart and brings him his success... and of course, plenty of unsavory steps brushed under the rug. The lumps are there, and we're told about them, but they're cursory. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Balram's voice is that of the professional servant, for sure... ingratiating while trying not to be annoying. You can also hear his intelligence in his voice, though, speaking with humor and warmth. You begin to forget he's a murderer.
Underneath this thread of the servant rising up to success, there is quite a bit of cultural commentary going on... there is corruption everywhere in Balram's India. His family tries to strong-arm him out of his hard-earned pittance, while his employers do everything possible to make sure they get their money's worth out of their servant. At the same time, we see his young master, who has spent time in America, struggling between the world of Indian privilege, where Balram is little more than property, and the more progressive views of America. To that end, Balram struggles between a true affection for his master and a desire to be his own man. Conflict abounds, yet the storytelling is so charming, those conflicts tend to sneak up on you. It makes the book more powerful, while not losing a bit of the pleasure of reading....more
Why not higher? This is a pretty brilliant, avant-garde, self aware book. That is, in the long run, it's biggest pro and it's biggest coAnother 3.5er.
Why not higher? This is a pretty brilliant, avant-garde, self aware book. That is, in the long run, it's biggest pro and it's biggest con.
On the plus side, I've never read anything like it, and don't expect to read much similar. It is a scathing critique of the non-artist in the artist's world... the hack in it for the money... the groupie feigning culture to be a part of a circle. The pretension as well as the obliviousness within the circle. It's a novel aware of the artifice of the novel, creating the characters as the book is written, giving us sketches of fake people (as fake as the real so-called artists they're based on?) as their on-the-spot backstories become the story itself. It crafts horrible poetry as well as anyone can unintentionally. It may even be required reading for all aspiring artists, especially writers. The people who put themselves into their work only to be second best to the fakes. It's a bitter, angry rant of a book. It's provocative in many ways. There's an odd tenderness, too... as the narrator creates every shallow, loathsome character, we still feel a shred of sympathy for the loveless marriage, the sad life, the meaningless mooch. As vilified as these shadows of stereotypes are (and indeed, often these characters are described in the terms of who they are being immaterial, because we all know these people, whether they're named Dick Detective or Joe Smith), they're still crafted with the care of an artist, and just as we have friends and acquaintances who we care about yet drive us up a wall, that's how we end up feeling about many of these characters.
However, all these obfuscations also make this an incredibly dense, difficult read. There are inconsistencies, digressions, flows of information pouring out too fast to catch. We're given a rapidfire set of vignettes, and no shortage of new personae to need to learn every last anecdote about, but we're not given a solid plot. The author (or narrator-as-author) inserts himself frequently. It's difficult. It's not going to be a "beach read." It needs your attention. And while that is not a bad thing (not at all), it does cut against the joy of the content. You can love a difficult text, and I don't know if this was indeed love....more
As I'm cataloging the books I've read over the last year (of which I am sure I'll leave some out, through simple forgetfulness), I really want to mentAs I'm cataloging the books I've read over the last year (of which I am sure I'll leave some out, through simple forgetfulness), I really want to mention White Teeth, for being far better than many others I had to read for classes, but I am left simply no longer having an impression. This concerns me. I know it was a lovely read. But just why is less secure.
It is perhaps fitting that a text in which the main character is, arguably, a forgettable one, would have a strong gut feeling but not a huge memory. Archie is inherently loveable despite being the sort of guy you'd be constantly frustrated with in the real world. He lives in a world of routine. He makes choices based on the flip of a coin. He's oblivious, really. And that's actually his charm. He's oblivious to the racist co-workers who phase him out of functions to avoid his young black wife Clara. He's oblivious to the fanaticism which manifests itself from his friends, the Iqbals, from the Chalfens, from Clara's mother... it's all a bit taoist, I suppose. He just is. And that separates him from the rest of the characters in the novel brilliantly.
This is a novel about ritual. Archie lives ritual because it's easy, but the rest do it because "it is right." And it makes them miserable trying to follow it. Samad and Alsana fight, quite physically, as a result of Samad trying to instill his traditional values to his sons, while Alsana's Niece-of-Shame, eschewing these values, enjoys herself. The Chalfens are so busy in their cult-of-themselves that they don't realize their children are rebelling, nor that they're growing apart. Hortense's only joy is knowing the end is nigh, which it isn't. Irie buys into the dominant ideology of wanting to be white and thin, and yearns for intimacy she believes can only come from what she's not. Millat must choose between radicalism and hedonism, a Sophie's Choice of sorts for him. These are the threads through every other life but Archie's. The only time we see Archie miserable is when he's forced to confront divorce at the very start of the novel. His misery comes from a real place, but also from a place of change. The others perpetuate their own misery by fighting for the very rituals which keep them ensnared in that cycle of misery.
So perhaps the novel isn't so lost as I believed, just as Archie, in his seeming blandness, is incredibly memorable. just refreshing certain details for this review made the text re-blossom for me. It might be the sort of book that will always retreat back until you're willing to refresh your memory, but it is fully worth the read to get to do so....more
It is risky to damn a clearly feminist text when you're a man. Thankfully, that is a risk I'm happy to take. There are times when we need to accept thIt is risky to damn a clearly feminist text when you're a man. Thankfully, that is a risk I'm happy to take. There are times when we need to accept that quality does not mean ideology, and I feel this is a perfect example thereof.
For starters, there is a decided discrepancy between the book's decided purpose (giving a voice for a character in history who has been marginalized) and the actual result of any speculative historical fiction. This can be no more a true take on who Tituba was than the menial information we may have from the Crucible and the historical texts which inspired both that and "I, Tituba." If the real Tituba could come back and read this, she may well be just as offended by the presumptions of this text as she would be of the mere footnote she registers in historical text.
There's also the fact that Tituba -is- a witch. The text makes quite a bit of ado about the nature of the word... she is not a witch in the negative sense that we read the word most often, but she still conjures and brews and has magic at her fingertips. This magic is real, in terms of the book. She can cure people with concoctions and charms, influence fate with ritual sacrifice, and even allow a man to speak with his dead family. The horror of the witch trials was how the fervor grew like a flame, and ended with so many innocent women imprisoned or slain for literally doing nothing. By framing Tituba as a literal sorceress of her own sort, it is harder to be sympathetic. The reader knows she is a "good witch," but even without the religious overtones to Puritan society, how many modern people would not still fear someone who, if magic existed, knew how to harness that energy? We can look at the sexist and racist undertones of these decisions, but that becomes little more than a mask when the protagonist is no longer falsely accused, especially when Tituba herself invokes venom against her tormentors with the same blindness they use to judge her as a black woman. We understand, yet something still rings false.
No less difficult is that Tituba, in some way, brings this upon herself. She lives free in Barbados, but in pursuing a man, one known for his flightiness and trickery, she finds herself enslaved as the wife of a slave. There was fair warning from the magic world. She ignores it. Tituba, unconstrained by the mores of an incredibly conservative white population, is very sexual, but what keeps her ensnared time and time again through the novel is not this freedom of sexual expression, but her inability to keep it separate from love. From her first enslavement with Joe Indian to the final liaison leading to her death, it is not men who trap her, but herself who allows herself to wander into the snares. Further, it is she who practices her magic in a world that is already suspicious. It is she who lets the children know of her powers. We see what could be a strong female character continually undone not only by a world that is ideologically oppressive to what she is from the start, but by her own naivete in how she forges her way in that world.
By the time Hester Prynne makes her way into the narrative, I was asking myself, who is still reading this? This is the point where we leave the already tenuous historic elements behind for pure ideology. Hester exists as a device, another unfairly accused woman kept down by the patriarchy. But Hester is so quintessentially fiction as a character (not to say she could not be real, but that she isn't), and her existence in this text so immaterial to who that character is, she becomes an elephant that everyone but Conde seems to notice in the room. She is a fictional take on a fictional character, which blows open the conceit of this being a more real interpretation of Tituba than the very brief sketches left over from the witch trials. Hester makes the suspension of disbelief we willingly engage in early on, accepting the spiritual world, feel all for naught. It becomes artifice for a fully different agenda, and is heavy handed in that delivery. In the long run, we're left with a story that becomes too self conscious of a subtext to do either the stated purpose of the text or the reader thereof much good....more
What can one say about a book entitled "Help! A Bear is Eating Me!" that isn't said in the title? Let's be honest, you don't pick up a title like thisWhat can one say about a book entitled "Help! A Bear is Eating Me!" that isn't said in the title? Let's be honest, you don't pick up a title like this looking for a serious literary read. And thus, you do not get one.
What you do get is the incredibly self-centered and unaware rantings of a complete asshole trapped under his SUV as a bear eats his legs.
If you are not Marv Pushkin, or someone like him, you will probably laugh at how blind the man is to reality. You will root for the bear. You will imagine the reality of what is happening outside the scene of Marv abandoned and eaten, a reality he's too self-centered to grasp. But if you're not Marv Pushkin, you will probably also weep as his caricature reminds you of friends and family you may have. You will be frustrated knowing that Marv is not a character built from pure fiction, but the embodiment of a very real and popular capitalist worldview. You'll be doubly frustrated that the real world Marvs are not having their legs eaten by bears. Maybe this reality will make you unable to take Marv seriously as anything but a caricature.
If you are Marv Pushkin (metaphorically, that is), you will probably hate this book.
Not that the non-Marvs will love it, per se. There are the frustrations above, but there is also the hallucinatory ending which becomes a bit heavy-handed itself (is this trying to say something deeper?) while potentially not wrapping up the way we want (depending on how we feel about Marv deserving or not deserving a continued being-eaten). This is also definitely a book which could have dragged on if it was too long. Thankfully this simply isn't possible with about 150 pages. At that length, there's no reason not to give it a read and get some amusement out of it....more
One of the things that I've always loved about Vonnegut is how simply he expresses complex ideas. Slapstick is no different. Here, he expands on the iOne of the things that I've always loved about Vonnegut is how simply he expresses complex ideas. Slapstick is no different. Here, he expands on the ideas of artificial families first imagined in his concepts of karass and duprass... the Swain children may be duprass personified, with their collective brilliance and their intimacy far beyond what is appropriate for siblings. Their isolation, however, is what leads Wilbur to create what could be the anti-karass... families built at random, not brought together by fate but by assignment.
Yet the idea as laid out is intriguing, despite how much I would hate to see it implemented real-time. Somehow it makes sense, the whole idea behind the book's subtitle, "Lonesome No More." Give someone something to belong to, and they're happier. It's the same concept tying people to religions, jobs, political parties, clubs, etc... we want to be part of something, to have people care about us. Randomly arranged families counteract class structures, cultural differences, race and creed, etc.
What Vonnegut does so well is adding these ideas to post-apocalyptic visions. Creating worlds that make total sense, despite shrinking Chinese, variable gravity, plagues, contagions, and kingdoms cropping up in America. Making us see the young Swains not as oddities or deviants, but with a sympathetic eye. We don't really question these things. What I do question, however, is Swain's repetitive tic of "Hi Ho." It's a bit of a pointless thread, especially considering how it echoes Vonnegut's earlier "So it goes" device. "So it goes" makes a bit of a point. Hi ho just sounds ridiculous. And in a world where we accept the grotesqueness of Wilbur and his sister and the breaking down of the country and the ability to float or not get up depending on the day, it takes a lot to be noticed as ridiculous.
What struck me most about DH Lawrence's travelogue through Italy? The seemingly casual interactions with fascism. The leisurely, unhurried pace (to avWhat struck me most about DH Lawrence's travelogue through Italy? The seemingly casual interactions with fascism. The leisurely, unhurried pace (to avoid saying "slow") of life in these small towns which were once Etruscan strongholds. That nomadic spirit that allows two companions to travel across a foreign land, truly exploring, asking locals for services and obtaining it. The simpler times such images evoke now. But most certainly not the Etruscans themselves.
Indeed, just as history has provided us very little information about their civilization, in this text they stay distant, even as Lawrence praises their assumed virtues. The tombs become a cavalcade of itemized art descriptions, a succession of rising and descending. While Lawrence is willing to make much of what these people may have been, we still have no better understanding. Perhaps this is the purpose, though. The description of the art's simplicity and complexity makes me want to do nothing more than see it. The vision of the networks of tombs make me want to go there. I should be in Italy myself this coming spring... why shouldn't I try to make similar explorations? By piquing the interest, the reader wants to know more, which is always the first step. With more people searching, we can potentially learn more about these vanquished people. Lawrence suggests, through his discomfort of museums as well as his excitement over these off the beaten path sites, that we should do it firsthand....more