You really have to take this book for what it is. It is not high theory; Caitlin Moran is not Judith Butler, and this is not "Am I That Name?" It is,
You really have to take this book for what it is. It is not high theory; Caitlin Moran is not Judith Butler, and this is not "Am I That Name?" It is, however, funny and fun and clever and rousing. It's not perfect, but it's good. It needs a marketing change, but the book is fine as is. ...more
I was close to giving this one a 5. The writing is strong, the tones and voices and perspectives were generally ambitious and appropriate to the plot
I was close to giving this one a 5. The writing is strong, the tones and voices and perspectives were generally ambitious and appropriate to the plots and themes, and and many of not most of the plots read as original and unexpected and mature. For instance, the story about the children at Tanner School and the one about the girls in the house in college were so good; the collective narration in the latter was ambitious and impressive, and the children in the former felt real and genuine and fully realized and understood. But she displays some major tics here (it's possible that some of these have disappeared with time; this is her first collection of short stories, after all) and sometimes the language/details felt like things that should have been taken out or changed in the revision stage - like something someone surely called out in a workshop at some point as a "darling" that needed to be "killed," as they say (and I feel almost certain that this was the collection of stories she turned in as her MFA thesis turned into a book, which means that the stories were likely extensively workshopped; but if I'm right, it was a damn good MFA thesis, and it deserved to be a book).
For example, almost every character (and I agree that they often felt interchangeable - except when they didn't, and those few were great) "snorts" a laugh or in derision at some point in the story. Only one or two characters in a collection should be allowed to have the same tic. It takes you out of the story and too far into the writer's head when the same thing happens in 3/5 of the stories in a book. The female characters, especially, are typically - almost exclusively - girls who are sarcastic and temperamental but not so much so that they are unlikeable but just enough so that they're "tough" and "different," a character type that could have manifested itself in different ways and made the collection feel more varied and Nissen seem smarter. It almost felt like this manuscript was the golden child at Iowa that year (and it was; it won an award from Iowa) and no one questioned it the way no one questions more established authors when they make dodgy choices. Obviously, I'm making that up based on my own assumptions, but if it had just had a little more pushback, I think it could have been just glorious where now it's only (only!) clever and highly ambitious and powerful with a definitive point of view, yet a tiny bit muted and a little too singular in its perspective.
That being said, the stories are observant and smart and well written. They pull you in when you wouldn't think you'd be interested in that plot or that character. Nissen has a clear and strong narrative voice and instinct for language. I will read more of her work happily, but there are just a few things about this collection that disappoint me because I feel like, with just one more editorial sweep, it could have been near perfect. E...more
I kind of wanted to give this four stars (it takes a lot or a bad mood to get three stars from me, which I think of as a C grade in grad school) beca
I kind of wanted to give this four stars (it takes a lot or a bad mood to get three stars from me, which I think of as a C grade in grad school) because I thought I would like it a lot more, and it did not - ever, really - enchant me (I guess there were some moments that did). But it gets five stars more for its writing and the way Lethem describes Tourrette's (which clearly has some sort of connection to the author's impulse to put words to paper or to "touch the world" and its edges). That was beautifully rendered, and the character resonated, as much as I think I resisted it. The sense of nostalgia also echoes throughout. There are no flaws in the execution. I just couldn't keep myself from getting bored - with what I'm not entirely sure. Maybe the whole crime conceit.
I don't know why I keep reading these "literary suspense novels" or whatever because I don't really like them all that much (Emily St. John Mandel does them exquisitely, so I'll blame her), but I do, and this one was less mystery/thriller, more literary. Extra point.
I still think the only other Lethem I've read, Chronic City, beats this one. I would still like to read more of his work, despite not absolutely loving Motherless Brooklyn, and I'd love to read The Ecstasy of Influence, with which I feel like I need to precede at least two or three of his novels. If only I had all the time ever. ...more
I'm conflicted. Parts made me yearn, parts strained my patience, but mostly things didn't hit me as hard as I really, really wanted them to.
I'm not tI'm conflicted. Parts made me yearn, parts strained my patience, but mostly things didn't hit me as hard as I really, really wanted them to.
I'm not totally sure it should get a 3 from me, but I don't want to inflate it to a 4, and there isn't a 3.5 or 3.75, which is what I would like to rate it. I did like it a good bit. Not, like, love love love transformed me while I was reading it like, but I can see why the Unbridled guy at BEA was hyping it so hard.
There are some things that need to be fixed between now and publication: several things are described or mentioned twice near the same place and in the same way, like revisions happened in one place but not another. It's mostly near the beginning. If this was not the mistake I assume it is, it's majorly distracting.
Bottom line: interesting, well- and smartly written, strong characters, but for some reason it's not magical. I don't know. I will check out her subsequent work, though. ...more
I had a hard time getting interested at first, but the second half just flew by. It was enjoyable but in some ways I thought it was a missed opportuniI had a hard time getting interested at first, but the second half just flew by. It was enjoyable but in some ways I thought it was a missed opportunity - with all that theory that sort of just gets talked about but not really used as anything other than a topic; it was a bow in the front of a dress when it could have been a bodice - at the same time that it's really smug about how it "subverts the marriage plot," even though the way it does that is so superficial - it may actually reinscribe it.
I don't think I really like Jeffrey Eugenides. He uses such nice language and the stories are nice, but I came away from both this and (where applicable) The Virgin Suicides feeling cheated, like he's too satisfied with himself, and like the billboard this book had actually makes sense - and it doesn't seem ironic or funny or whatever. I feel like he's that guy in the women's studies class who thinks he's discovered this new feminist masculinity but still uses it to bolster his privilege (which might have something to do with all the theory in the book...) - or like a grad school paper that's missing a piece and has failed to pull all the strings together to make its argument work. I don't know. I felt like the book tried too hard and missed.