Gaiman always makes me want to throw my hands up at the end--did I like it? Did it fall flat? Would I recommend it? I can never choose a side. But I d...moreGaiman always makes me want to throw my hands up at the end--did I like it? Did it fall flat? Would I recommend it? I can never choose a side. But I do read to the end, to throwing my hands up in the air.
I think the problem is that I like his premises so much. So full of promise. So wide of scope. The idea of writing a novel in which all gods of all mythologies are fair game for your cast of characters, mobilizing to some end that will make a statement about America's soul--it's not fair. I'm salivating. I want too much from this. His main characters often read like ciphers for Gaiman to me, Mary-Sues if you will, and Shadow kind of reeked of this. I felt like it was a little hammered-in too many times that Shadow's "the strong, silent type," the big lug who's secretly pretty smart--a common fantasy hero trope, first of all, and also just a bit off-putting in the first part of the book, where I just didn't get much of a whiff of personality from Shadow at all. He bored me to death. I kept reading for Wednesday (whose character really should've gotten more of an arc instead of getting shunted off-stage at the end) and the other gods, Gaiman's asides between chapters--really anything that got us away from Shadow. Though I liked him despite myself, don't get me wrong. I have no complaints with strong, silent, smart types. But what right does he have to compete for time with characters who are gods? And his utter lack of curiosity was maddening...I would've thrown Shadow overboard for an Alice-in-Wonderland style protagonist. (In fact, there was a character a bit like this--I've forgotten her name, but she's the college lesbian who hitches a ride with Shadow--SHE would've probed every aspect I wanted to learn more about).
That said, Gaiman just doesn't let me full-on hate anything he writes. It's maddening. Just when I think the writing's gotten too insipid and the storyline's just going to disappoint me by not living up to what it could be, he breaks into a side chapter and rhapsodizes/synthesizes things beautifully--often a vignette with a fascinating character with more force of personality than any in the main cast.
These make it worth the reading time. It's my personal pet theory that Gaiman's a little afraid of these characters. They can't be made to go anywhere predictable. When we return to the main cast, to Shadow, Laura...I felt I could've written their trajectories and dialogue myself.
And I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes through Shadow's hero's-journey christlike climax--I couldn't decide whether it was a failure that it was included but not emphasized that much, or appropriate, because he's such a lackluster Christ figure.
Oh, and it did feel like a very British idea of America...not particularly insightful of the national culture, but flattering (?) in that the novel seems to equate 'American' with modernization in general.
That said, where Gaiman is funny, dry, and/or waxing philosophical, he is very, very good. For all my frustration, I loved the headspace this book put me in, and perhaps wanting to write it for him isn't such a bad impulse to be given. Also, where it's good, the book is very quotable. I was underlining all over the place and hope to put some of my favorites here soon.
David Mitchell never seems interested in drawing you in, but it's worth initial slogging to watch what he does with his gimmicks. This one is basicall...moreDavid Mitchell never seems interested in drawing you in, but it's worth initial slogging to watch what he does with his gimmicks. This one is basically a narrative Russian doll, with several stories split in half and shown in two parts, culminating (sort of) in a center-but-not-necessarily-central story, and all referencing or partly showing up in the other halved stories. The postlapsarian middle is ripest.(less)
**spoiler alert** I'm...a little unsure what I'm saying about this one. I had heard of it--it's a best-seller, particularly sweeping in the south--but...more**spoiler alert** I'm...a little unsure what I'm saying about this one. I had heard of it--it's a best-seller, particularly sweeping in the south--but I don't think I would have picked it up if my mother hadn't been so moved as to send me a text message about it while I was at work. I wish I'd saved it, it was actually punctuated. She said that she'd gotten it from the library and was buying a copy because she felt it was such a good portrayal of what it was like to be a woman when she was growing up, that I should read it to know what her world was like then, and "how far we've come."
I don't know. The premise was good. And Stockett knows how to move a plot; the thing was easy to read. But through the whole experience I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable, and not really in the good this-is-revealing-my-biases kind of way I've gotten from books written about race relations written from the perspective of the disenfranchised. I bristled when I got to the first black maid character and saw that her chapters were in a kind of pidgen English, while Skeeter's (the white narrator) were in invisible-perspective college-educated English. Yes, Skeeter just got out of college, which could explain away her lack of accent/syntax irregularities, and isn't that convenient. (Personally, even this required suspension of my disbelief. Stockett has spent her time in the South, and yet somehow she fails to really show that even though all southern accents and ways of talking are lumped together as bumpkinish by outsiders, within the South, especially at the time period, certain southern accents were sign of wealth and distinction, and even educated southerners would not have been so quick to unlearn them.)
I was able to keep reading when I saw that, in dialogue, Stockett does let some of her white women speak "southern" as well, although the ruling tendency is to give them unremarkable English and to pepper the maid's with "be's" and "done's", even with Aibileen, the maid who writes well enough to need hardly any editing, and who reads Faulkner and Richard Wright as eagerly as a beach novel.
Then there's the fact that though this is a novel about the burgeoning civil rights movement told from "the sidelines" (in the same way that '80s career women are often seen as "the sidelines" of the more radical feminist movement), and from women. There were really no fleshed out male characters here at all, I felt them all as faceless, clueless, heavy-treading hulking presences in a scene, but certainly not distinguishable from each other as a rule. This isn't necessarily a complaint--I endure the opposite often enough, and the novel seems comfortable being a microcosm of women, like "Cranford," maybe. But...for all that room, and all that delicious novelty, and all the room for detail that kind of focus should afford Stockett, I finished the book feeling kind of let down for the female characters. They were all awkward mixes of stereotype and archetype, even the book's dearest, most compelling characters who get all the figurative "screen time" (lord, did I just write that?): the wise, loving black woman; the screechy, mad black woman; the pathetic, trashy-but-somehow-lovable Marilyn wannabe; and the painfully earnest but stupid in the ways of the world wide-eyed lady-writer-wannabe.
Really, I'm not sure I even mind that she used those tropes as characters. But I was disappointed that she didn't do anything to turn any of them on their heads, add any new nuances, challenge me in some way to see them differently. And I know, after reading the afterword (and from my common sense, yes), that Skeeter is supposed to be the one I identify with, that she is most closely the mouthpiece of the author herself, a southerner with ambiguous feelings about her family's black maid, who moved to New York to be a writer...but I found Skeeter mostly insufferable, especially when compared to Aibileen and Minny. There are a few places in the novel where her unexamined sense of privilege is gently made fun of, but those moments never go deep enough to reach anything hard or terribly unflattering about that privilege, and on the whole I felt that we were supposed to be lauding Skeeter all the way for being so big and brave as to care about the black maid's plight, if only sort of accidentally for her own gain.
The book reaches its enlightenment apex with the white woman realizing that we're all just people, regardless of skin color or, perhaps, class. Which is nice. It's a good thing to know and verbalize. And I was charmed by it, rooted for it, when that was the message of Aibileen's disguised stories meant to counteract the racism that Mae Mobley would absorb growing up. But, I was really hoping for a grown-up story.
This book won't stay with me for more than a day or so, I can already tell. Maybe the premise will. More than anything, I think I'll be wondering for a while just what these stories triggered in my mother that spurred such violent emotion and memory. That's the book I want to read.(less)
like fairy tales for adults--so I'm using it as such, a tale or two before bed. It'll be a while before I get through at this rate...
update: 01/02/10:...morelike fairy tales for adults--so I'm using it as such, a tale or two before bed. It'll be a while before I get through at this rate...
update: 01/02/10: Yeah, this one's gone back on the shelf...just not what I want right now.
update: 07/12: One of the most incredibly imaginative modern storytellers I've come across. At this date I'm completely in love with the author's work, blog, and hilarious unrelated gif tumblr, and I'm gearing up to read the sequel. I even re-read this aloud for hours at a time for the boyfriend on a long car ride. Right time for every book.(less)
I read a review that called this "more clinical and gynecological than pornographic," and yes, that's the point. "Wetlands" talks about sex, and the b...moreI read a review that called this "more clinical and gynecological than pornographic," and yes, that's the point. "Wetlands" talks about sex, and the bodied female experience of sexuality, without distinction between those sensations and other intimate, "gross" experiences that come from the same places--menstruation and sterilization spoken of in the same breath as a seedy story about receiving oral sex, hemorrhoids described in passing within a story about anal sex.
This book has had a lot of hype, and it's not an opus--the titillate-and-gross-out body-fest is pretty much the story here; we get a little bit of Helen's psychological make-up, but mostly the story is the bang-up job Charlotte Roche does of achieving her very particular effect. I've seen this book heralded as feminist, and if you come to it expecting a completely feminist view of the body, a formalized refutation of feminized perfection, you'll be disappointed. Helen is, in many ways, not the most enlightened of characters. Her feminism is incidental, innate in her movements. "Wetlands" is only feminist in the sense that I've never read anything this wonderfully gross about a woman. The character is not perfect, often not even likable. Her methodical assault on hygiene is merely weird, character quirk, hardly to be categorized as feminist. Just a premise for grossing you out, dear reader.
Reading this I thought of two things, which may or may not be helpful to others (they may just be helpful in my own personal map of associations, but who can tell): I felt about Helen in "Wetlands" the way I remember feeling about Ignatius J. Reilly in "Confederacy of Dunces." And the complete sophmoric glee I sometimes felt reading this reminded me of the way I felt after watching "Teeth"--along with the realization that many people are repulsed by the same passages beyond repair. (less)
I never read 'Prague', and the only reason I picked this up was probably due to a Salon.com interview with the author, all about how music affects the...moreI never read 'Prague', and the only reason I picked this up was probably due to a Salon.com interview with the author, all about how music affects the lives of individuals and where it stands in courtship, memory, etc...I was hoping the book would be even more fascinating. Instead, all that stuff about music is more of a quiet backdrop to what boils down to a fairly ordinary midlife-crisis-type love story (ordinary only after you subtract the effects of a disturbingly stalkerly courtship--one that's treated as pretty normal by the author instead of really becoming problematic).
Let's be frank. I didn't like the poor, philandering male protagonist. I didn't like his idealized singer-songwriter. I didn't think Phillips' description of her process had anything new or interesting to say about music or creativity. And I didn't like his overwrought, snarky-clever prose style (worse in the first half of the book--once the story gets some real plot movement, Phillips doesn't seem to stress as much over the need to be syntactically clever).