As much as I enjoy Austen, it's hard for me not to become a bit frustrated with the characters and the author for their lack of 21st century feministAs much as I enjoy Austen, it's hard for me not to become a bit frustrated with the characters and the author for their lack of 21st century feminist principles, and then to become frustrated with myself for experiencing frustration over such an absurd expectation, and then to become further frustrated when I realize I am about the 50 millionth reader to experience these frustrations and that most of these readers have just gotten over it and enjoyed the story, you know, some time in high school when they first read it (and then, of course, I become self-conscious about my use of the word "feminist"). That said, I think Emma might be particularly frustrating because she is so close to being a feminist protagonist: she's willful, intelligent, talented, she has her own opinions and acts on them. And yet, every single opinion she has and every single action she takes ends up being wrong, and on every occasion Mr. Knightly has a chance to voice his take on the issues, he is inevitably right. Things don't really go well for her until she realizes Knightly's superior judgement in all matters and that she should just do what he wants (i.e. marry him).
Anyway, weird anachronistic moral judgement aside, fun stuff. Not quite as fun as P&P for me (where's the anger?), but whatever. Mr. Woodhouse's hypochondria was pretty great. Ak tells me this is the Austen novel most lauded by critics, though it's hard to say why. Time to see what Gwynneth Paltrow and Alicia Silverstone think....more
This is kind of like a fake book. Like someone smart and funny and educated wrote a parody of the kind of book that garners praise like "Nell Zink isThis is kind of like a fake book. Like someone smart and funny and educated wrote a parody of the kind of book that garners praise like "Nell Zink is a writer of extraordinary talent and range" from Jonathan Franzen even though it's the author's first novel, and a monotonic one at that. I'm not saying that tone is bad. It's really good! It's hilarious and acridly bitter and occasionally profound, but not terribly varied, and that profundity is all in asides, all in pot shots. Without that you're left with Tiffany, who earns some sympathy for being cruelly used early in the novel, but eventually proves that being used is pretty much all she ever does. She basically just takes her cues from one man or another and then the book is over. If that "defiantly resists classification as a modern commodity," maybe I'm actually really into the commodities modernity has to offer. The burning question I'm left with at the end is how a narrator so deft and articulate could have achieved so little.
In regards to form, I'm all for it. When they don't know what to feed an injured bird, Stephen says, "Scramble it some eggs. [...] Whatever's in eggs must be in birds" (p. 13). On the reception former rebels get from today's youth, Stephen gets "nothing by the side-long looks post-punks are always getting from Young People 2.0 that means, 'You are so unprofessional'" (p. 84). On choosing a mode of transit abroad, Tiff says, "We compromised on a donkey. No ecotourist was heartless enough to ride as donkey, so the price was still relatively Albanian" (p. 73). Ok, those are mostly the hilarious bits. But well-written, too!
And on the topic of nature and environmentalism, things got interesting, but only in brief moments. On loving nature as a way of escaping its grip on you personally, Tiff says, "Stephen and I loved nature more than ever after we'd decided to ignore its effects in our own lives. We chose to love it instead of bending under its weight. If you're out in a swamp every weekend morning, you're not breeding and feeding. You're in control. You need to stay out of nature's way while you're still young enough for it to ruin your life." (p. 48)
Stephen's rant about what he sees as the fallacy of conservation and a land ethic also seemed pointed:
They hate me. They only thing they think laymen are good for is to supply emotional arguments that might make somebody put up with nature. But they know it won't work. Because if you have a plant you don't like the looks of on your lawn, or a bug that looks weird, you're going to kill it, unless you're a total sap. So all the nature lovers get this training and these jobs and make out like they're master technicians of the ecosphere, but they're just saps. Because nobody knows how the ecosphere works. It just wants to be left alone. Life is what happens when you leave it alone. It's circular! But nobody wants to leave it alone. They want to love it. Love of nature is a contradiction in terms. It's the thing everybody says nobody has enough of, and it's this totally nonexistent personality trait. The myth of biophilia. Loving things at your own expense, being happy that they're out there somewhere, living their lives, where you never see them. Give me a break. What a fucking joke.
I'm not sure if these are Zink's own views or at least partially due to Stephen's derangement. He's certainly not someone filled with love so much as he's filled with compulsion, which certainly sounds familiar, and I agree we (the saps) probably have over-romanticized our own interest in nature, and have overinflated expectations about infecting other people with that interest, but I don't think naturalism or environmentalism are about loving things at your own expense. Love has a price, but it's not the dear when it comes to nature.
All that being said, mostly what I was thinking of while reading this was that Marvin Minsky quote about general fiction being about how people get into trouble and screw up their lives and science fiction is about everything else. This is definitely more the former than the latter.
Also, these words:
orgiast (n): one who celebrates orgies (duh). bathos (n): I think here it's supposed to mean triteness or sentimentality, but apparently it can also mean a suddenly injected absurdity in an otherwise serious passage. subrogate (v): to substitute...more
Ah Lord, what to make of this. In a way, it sort of reads like Mitchell's attempt to resurrect a failed novel adaptation of the film adaptation of hisAh Lord, what to make of this. In a way, it sort of reads like Mitchell's attempt to resurrect a failed novel adaptation of the film adaptation of his previous novel Cloud Atlas, as if Mitchell had been handed the Wachowskis' tragically earnest, overly literal interpretation of his own work and asked to reincarnate it as a different novel, but without jettisoning the clumsy failings that hamstrung the movie. His fundamental morality is still there, as well as his excellent storytelling (at least within each chapter) and some remnants of his wordplay, but the fantastic components he's used as narrative background structures in previous novels, like disembodied personas and reincarnation, have been somewhat unfortunately promoted to the foreground and decorated with the gaudiest of genre proper nouns and neologisms. To wit: (view spoiler)["Around every equinox and solstice, the soul's owner has to be lured up the Way of Stones into the Chapel. Once there, the hapless visitor stares at the icon of the Blind Cathar, who then decants the visitors soul into Black Wine" (hide spoiler)] (p. 436). This goes on, and was taken from a nearly randomly selected page in a chapter that is almost *all* exposition. The worst is when a rash of these proper nouns suddenly appears in the middle of a perfectly conventional scene, e.g. (view spoiler)[Holly is sharing a fortuitous meal with some provocatively cool new friends after she's run away from home, when suddenly we're bombarded with psyocosoteric attacks from the Chakra eyes of Shaded Way assassins (hide spoiler)], as if the analog signal of a David Mitchell novel had suddenly been overpowered by that of a gifted thirteen-year-old's ingenious but tedious first attempts at world building.
I have no objection to genre fiction (love it, in fact), and I can tolerate quite a bit of proper noun-packed expository tedium, but Mitchell's deployment of these elements in The Bone Clocks was so blunt, so jarring, that I kept trying to figure a way in which the bluntness and the jarringness were their own kind of message, that they acted as foils against the more realistic scenes like Enomoto in Jacob De Zoet, but I failed, utterly, in this effort. I got the feeling that this was more like an old idea Mitchell had been kicking around for a fantasy novel, one that provided some brilliant structure and set pieces for his other novels, but that he never got a chance to write about directly, literally, until now. And if you just extracted the Horology storyline from the rest, it *would* be a super fun, if somewhat forgettable, piece of fantasy, but glueing it on to four (maybe five) rather beautiful short stories mostly served to illustrate how much more effective the fantastic can be when it is an assumption behind a foreground of great characters, not something the characters keep tripping over.
And as great as these characters were (Holly in particular), it feels like Mitchell was leaning a little too heavily on what are becoming his standbys: rakish young Englishmen with surprising scruples, bumbling past-prime middle-aged authors, not particularly funny in-jokes about how not particularly funny it is to point out how not particularly funny it is for writers to write about writers writing about writing, etc.
The final chapter, Sheep's Head, is *brilliant*, like tearing up in an aisle seat where everyone can see me kind of brilliant, possibly some of the best near-future dystopia I've read, and it's definitely making me forget some of the previous awkwardness. Channeling the Clear Island story from ghostwritten, Mitchell again paints a perfect picture of a small town in western Ireland (Mo from Clear Island is one of many, many recycled Mitchell characters in this book), but here the outlook is bleaker, as climate change, epidemics, and economic collapse have begun to tip the world into a new Dark Age (the "Endarkenment," another unfortunate proper noun). In addition to the heart-wrenching storyline and the concisely evoked small cast, Mitchell makes the deprivations of 2043 so, so much more real than, say, The Windup Girl (too foreign, too much of an adventure), or Atwood's Maddaddam books (too cynical, too post-apocalyptic). The world didn't just blow up, things just slowly got worse, through a sequence of relatively small catastrophes (megastorms, parts of the internet going dark, cities flooding), which feels more like modern history than the kind of single-event, nuclear holocaust model. When Mo complains to mercenary looters, "So you're reinstating the law of the jungle?" and they reply, "You were bringing it back every time you filled your tank" (p. 572) it hits home. Much like Clear Island, it ends with a sort of ridiculous (view spoiler)[deus ex machina involving the military, but up until that semi-happy ending, it felt very, very real, and very bleak. (hide spoiler)] Civilization's fragility is one of Mitchell's better themes, and it's too bad he didn't spend more of this novel exploring it.
I'm still a huge Mitchell fan and I'm not going to lie, I read this pretty rabidly for the better part of two plane flights (burning gas, drinking out of processed petroleum cups, bringing about the end times), but this is probably his weakest book to date. Ron Charles wrote in the Post that "Fortunately, the author doesn’t leave us in this knock-off version of 'Harry Potter'" i.e. the magical immortal fantasy stuff, but I think Mitchell could learn something from Rowling's relatively tight stories, how she invites you into a world instead of slamming your face into it (yes, she has some slamming, and writes for kids, etc, but I still think she balances the fantastic and the realistic with a little more grace).
Despite its genre bashing, James Wood's review in the New Yorker is probably the best I've read so far, one of the few that goes beyond "this is what happened, and I liked this part, not that part." While I don't agree this book invalidates Cloud Atlas or ghostwritten (I think they are more than just style and good yarns), I definitely felt that doubt. Wood laments the subduction of profundity beneath mere storytelling in this book, which seems like a fair critique of the Bone Clocks, but not of Cloud Atlas, De Zoet, and ghostwritten, which I think have much more to say about the nature of morality, of the duration of meaning against impossible odds, of our culture's doom but its kernel's dim but lasting survival, like a white dwarf post-nova. More of that next time lease, Dave.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I remain conflicted about Saunders, though, I admit, considerably more tickled than I remember being after reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. ReadinI remain conflicted about Saunders, though, I admit, considerably more tickled than I remember being after reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Reading his stories is a bit like hanging out with a smarter friend who, despite heartfelt confessions of camaraderie and mutual affection both private and public, you always suspect of genuinely mocking you beneath several layers of ironic involution. It's probably his middlebrow, middle-American characters with their humble aspirations and rampant malapropisms that are prodding, delicately but firmly, my own nervous, doubtful pretensions toward intellectual adequacy.
All the same, feeling radically insecure is what I do, so it's easy to look over that toward the weird, hilarious (seriously!), generally wonderful set of stories here. I feel like "The Semplica Girl Diaries" got the most media attention, and, for once, rightfully so. Gets a bit message-y at the end, which I guess I kind of like, but be advised. I enjoyed the way the idea of the Semplica Girls moved from cryptic acronym to absurdity to horrific normality to farce. "Escape from Spiderhead" definitely pushed my scifi button (close to the insecurity-about-intelligence button, I wonder?).
Interesting to see the ambivalent reviews here on Goodreads! I guess I'm not alone in my reservations....more
The best way to get me to read something is to put a physical copy in my hands, which is what my friend Tammy did with this book, accompanied by the wThe best way to get me to read something is to put a physical copy in my hands, which is what my friend Tammy did with this book, accompanied by the warning that this had nothing to with biology, as both the title and our shared predilection/obsession for that subject would suggest. So warned, I began, and was immediately swept into this wonderfully digressive semi-fictional portrait of expats, missionaries, and the hill tribes of northern Thailand.
What is and isn't fiction here was part of what made this book so compelling for me. Mischa Berlinski is both the name of the author and the protagonist (apparently a postmodern trope?), and his little author blurb suggests that like his protagonist, the author spent time as a journalist in Thailand. The level of cultural detail described seems enormous for a work of pure fiction, and the somewhat excessive number of finely-described and idiosyncratic characters gives the sense that the author was working from notes rather than imagination. Turns out there is a lot of non-fiction here: the author's note at the end and some research (read: Wikipedia searches) into the cultural practices and history of the hill tribes (Lisu, Hmong, Mien, Karen, Lahu, and Akha) suggests the Dyalo culture and the Walker family history were both syntheses of actual hill tribes and missionary families in the region. Berlinski's descriptions of Chang Mai and Berkeley are from personal experience. But none of this diminishes what seems like a genuine talent for characterization and verisimilitude.
I think it's a bit excessive to call this a "novel of ideas" as it was described by the LA Times. There are, as they point out, ideas there (faith vs. reason, epistemology, consequences of transnationalism), but I didn't feel any were addressed explicitly enough to suggest the author was attempting to wrestle with them so much as prod them gently as he walked by. I do agree with their point that Berlinski doggedly and laudably refuses to cartoon any of his characters, who include among their number Bible literalists and highfalutin anthropologists, low hanging fruit for cartooning if ever there were any. And, on the whole, the writing was unobtrusive and the stories were sufficiently captivating to keep me turning pages, and maybe learning a bit about Thailand along the way....more
My brother picked this up on a whim as a birthday gift, but man, he couldn't have chosen better: comics, landscape, work, idealism, expertise, all inMy brother picked this up on a whim as a birthday gift, but man, he couldn't have chosen better: comics, landscape, work, idealism, expertise, all in one book! For those of you too lazy to read the blurb, the book concerns the author Étienne, and his friend, Richard, as they explore each others professions, comics author and wine maker, respectively. Shock, the two disciplines have more in common than you might think, but the pleasure's in the particulars: the way that Richard makes wine is intimate and personal. He seems to perform most of the labor himself, and keeps his production small. He refuses organic labeling and appellation designation because he values the particularity of his product, the way his own direct experience and the unique character of the land evidence themselves in the bottle. Étienne has a similar approach to comics: he slaves over them, continually concerned with conveying the particularity of his subject, while balancing his own presence in his work, and understanding that complete control is impossible, and ultimately undesirable. I suppose these traits apply to any personal creative endeavor, but it's great watching the two of them stumble over the operational details (pruning? printing?) to arrive at these larger commonalities.
Visually I don't think the book could be better. There are plenty of talking heads, as you would expect in a comic that's largely about two dudes talking, but Davodeau adorns those heads with evocative expressions. Like a lot of Europeans (and unlike most American comics authors) he's also a master of light: his layered washes and shadows are wonderful, particularly in the vineyard and larger landscapes. Definitely not a formalist (6 panel pages throughout) but the approach works perfectly for the subject matter. In many ways this is what I wish Feynman had been: a non-fiction comic in which the subjects under discussion get as much visual attention as the characters discussing them.
The book suffers somewhat from the imbalanced attention Davodeau pays to Richard. We learn a great deal more about making wine than making comics. To be sure, they visit a publisher, chat with other creators, talk at length about appreciation and criticism, but Richard never tries making a comic, nor are we privy to Étienne's drawing and writing habits. In one sense it's refreshingly un-autobiographical in a medium that's over-saturated with neurotic navel-gazers, and, as they point out, wine-making and wine-drinking are more communal than drawing, writing, and reading, which are almost exclusively private (I find public comics "readings" particularly excruciating), but after the detailed look we get into Richard's work life, it left me wondering what Étienne's desk was like, how he chose equipment, to what extent he incorporates computers into his work, etc.
The book is also unflaggingly positive and dream-like in its depiction of work for these two guys, which casts at least a small shadow of doubt upon its realism. Even in the rarified worlds of boutique wine and indy comics there must be frustrations, setbacks, drudgery, self-doubt (hell, that's a staple of autobiographical minicomics!). Surely they're not *always* sipping chenin blanc and debating the merits of Trondheim! One friend of theirs brings this up, but Davodeau apparently wasn't interested in exploring those aspects of work (nor was he interested in how non-work influences work: the two only interact in the context of their project, friends and family outside of the biz are mentioned only in passing).
It's hard to quibble with a book this elegant and joyful, though. Bonus: it's got a list of all the wines they drank and all the comics they read in the back. Done and done. Would love to read more by this author, but I'm not sure anything else has been translated. Do I really have to scrape the rust off my completely neglected high school French?!...more
This is another of those left field (for me) Christmas entries on my reading list courtesy of my aunt. It doesn't start well: writing in the second peThis is another of those left field (for me) Christmas entries on my reading list courtesy of my aunt. It doesn't start well: writing in the second person rarely does, and when "you" are an elephant, well, you kind of feel like things might just go from bad to worse. But they don't! Once Donaghue stopped addressing me as a pachyderm, I began enjoying her nicely-wrought tails of vagrants in the New World. Each story in the collection fictionalizes a real person the author gleaned from historical accounts of various kinds, most from over 100 years ago, which adds a real thrill to the reading because Donaghue picked some zingers. How can these people have been real? She tries on a number of voices too, some of which work better than others, but none of which really detract from the experience. I was also very interested to find the afterword, where Donaghue actually talks about her own stories. When does that ever happen?
Now I'm even more compelled to read Room, despite it's lurid (yet current) subject matter....more
Enjoyable read, but not quite the head trip of its billing. The way your allegiance as a reader shifts from character to character is fun, and the sloEnjoyable read, but not quite the head trip of its billing. The way your allegiance as a reader shifts from character to character is fun, and the slowly cultivated sense of dread is intriguing, but by the time you get to the dirty secrets they just don't seem that dirty anymore. The rumination on violence and its justification are more interesting but I didn't feel they were full plumbed, or perhaps they were over my head. Maybe the half-reasonable violence was just a way to lead you to the point where the seemingly psychotic characters don't seem that psychotic. Many of the details about conversation and fancy dinners were acute and amusing, particularly the bit about TV and film being the last resort of an exhausted discussion (not sure that's universally true, but it's certainly happened to me). Since all the back cover blurbs seem to describe it as a thrilling beach read, I will say I enjoyed it way more than Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Much better writing for one. Lacking, however, in sandwiches....more
"A strange and traumatic experience," David Foster Wallace wrote in an essay on attending the Annual Adult Video News Awards, "which one of yr. corrs."A strange and traumatic experience," David Foster Wallace wrote in an essay on attending the Annual Adult Video News Awards, "which one of yr. corrs. will not even try to describe consists of standing at a men's room urinal between professional woodmen [male porn stars] Alex Sanders and Dave Hardman. Suffice it to say that the urge to look over/down at their penises is powerful and the motives behind this urge so complex as to cause anuresis (which in turn ups the trauma)." Aside from hinting at the hilarious absurdity with which Wallace analyzes everything from porn galas to lobster festivals to John McCain's Straight Talk Express, this passage nicely captures my emotional approach to this book: I'd heard this Wallace guy had a pretty big brain. Now I know he had a pretty big brain. Way bigger than mine. We'll see if the disparity affects my ability to, uh, write.
So he was smart. Every essay had something new for me, like how dictionaries are, unlike phone books, ideological and rhetorical in nature and therefore worthy of criticism, or how modern American novelists are embarrassed by articulating morals, and how that's a problem. Like I said, he was also funny. Aggravate-your-fellow-airplane-prisoner/patrons-with-constant-laughter funny. On top of all this, he seemed genuine, which is both forehead-smackingly sensible *and* impressive given his repeated inquiries into authenticity. Reading around I guess Wallace was well-known for being anti-ironic, but the effect on this reader was essentially the same quality Wallace himself lauds in the cornerstone piece in this collection, "Authority and American Usage": Wallace is ever-present in his own writing, and he earns his authority with wit, compassion, and some endearing absurdities (borrowing a leather jacket to be cool enough to report for Rolling Stone being my fave).
I liked his way of analyzing a subject by hanging out with people of tertiary significance. He didn't talk to John McCain, or John McCain's advisors. He hung out with the camera crews. Same with the porn awards: he spends most of his time talking to professional porn journalists (apparently that's a thing). Maybe this was his way of avoiding BS, like he didn't believe there was any hope of deriving genuine meaning about a person by actually speaking with them directly, but meaning could be triangulated through the perceptions of technicians and professionals who were not directly responsible for considering semantics (but did so all the same). In the case of John McCain that's a bit odd since the whole piece concerns the question of whether McCain actually means what he says, unlike every other politician in history.
Anyway, the more I try to think about the book the more the aforementioned metaphorical anuresis is kicking in. The book was unexpectedly magnetic, intellectually consuming, and totally compelling from start to finish. If you can stomach footnotes that have their own footnotes that are themselves then referenced in the main text, suggesting they were not actually that ancillary after all, then you should probably pick this up.
Words Oh man, so many great words.
satyriasis (n): uncontrollable sexual obsession in men. (p. 53) lallate (v): conventionally to replace your r's with l's, or to speak in a nonsensical baby fashion, but in the sense DFW intended here I guess it means calming, as in a lullaby, as described here. (p. 64) sprachgefuhl (n): sensitivity to linguistic propriety (p. 69) dysphemism (n): inserting an intentionally harsh word or phrase when a more neutral one would suffice, opposite of euphemism. Apparently never having encountered this word makes me NOT a SNOOT. (p. 70) solecism (n): linguistic goof, incorrect use of language. (p. 71 and everywhere in this essay) pertussion (n): coughing, though most dictionaries seem to list the word as "pertussis." (p. 71) styptic (adj): confining or binding in this case, but also used to describe substances that stanch bleeding. I almost wrote "staunch." If there's one word I'm going to remember from this book it's "solecism." (p. 80) spiriferous (adj): having spires. I hate words like this. (p. 42) anapest (n): two short syllables followed by one long, in this case "where's it at." Is "anapest" itself an anapest? (p. 99) trochee (n): long syllable followed by a short one. Why a "monosyllabic foot + trochee" is supposed to be uglier than a "strong anapest" is beyond me. (p. 99) pleonasm (n): excessive use of words to express something, in this cases leveled as a criticism against academic writing, which is somewhat absurd coming from DFW who is pleonastic in the extreme. (p. 115) immanent (adj): inherent, innate. (p. 151) luxated (adj): dislocated. (p. 151) prolegomenous (adj): introductory (p. 255) ...more
I admit I didn't get very far in this collection, but after several stories it became apparent the overarching theme was "depressing tales of depressiI admit I didn't get very far in this collection, but after several stories it became apparent the overarching theme was "depressing tales of depressing Irish people." I'm not categorically opposed to the morose in fiction, but like any emotion its impact fades when delivered in monotone. I had the same problem with Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which might actually be the same book with a different accent....more
Following a brief, somewhat endearing exposition on the quirky Bigtree family and their gator-wrasslin' ways, this book descends into what, to me, felFollowing a brief, somewhat endearing exposition on the quirky Bigtree family and their gator-wrasslin' ways, this book descends into what, to me, felt like two conventional, uninteresting novels: Kiwi's farcical exploration of suburban teenage degeneracy (aka did you know people are uneducated and low-paying jobs crush souls?), and Ava's magical-realist-cum-whimsical-sexual-predation tale of swamp exploration. Nostalgia for the family life outlined at the start drives the two stories, but the nostalgia never felt earned. The Bigtrees were cool, I guess, but I wasn't in love with them, and Ava and Kiwi by themselves failed to exceed the tropes into which Russell dropped them. I suppose she was shooting for the five-minutes-of-the-sublime-intro-followed-by-60-minutes-of-whatever-exactly-happened-in-Up model (there was a talking dog, right?), but didn't pull it off. Kiwi's an out-of-place nerd. Ava's a dreamer in denial. I guess it was amusing enough for me to finish, but that was mostly due to a misplaced hope in a better next page.
How about this: instead of reading Swamplandia!, just watch that first segment of Up, then start reading The Lovely Bones while you have Idiocracy and Rescue Rangers playing on two separate monitors. I haven't even read The Lovely Bones but I have to believe it's more compelling than Osceola's dead guy crush and Ava's bewildering self-delusion about creepy old dudes in dirty black overcoats. Crime-solving rodents: now THAT's what discerning readers crave....more
Not my favorite book ever but it ended on a sweet note. It seems Egan has a thing for urban losers and nuclear families. The families are a nice antidNot my favorite book ever but it ended on a sweet note. It seems Egan has a thing for urban losers and nuclear families. The families are a nice antidote to the losers, but the losers are still losers, making them somewhat annoying to accompany for the majority of a novel. In A Visit from the Goon Squad, the cast of losers rotated frequently enough to keep me from becoming mired in their loserdom, but not so in The Keep. Danny cares more about his boots and his phone his fellow human beings, considers mundane abilities like recognizing powerful people to be the hard-won rewards of a lifetime of experience, and when he reaches his climactic transformation, it doesn't feel believable. The Danny of several pages prior would have thrown a fit or gone catatonic. I doubt Egan considers Danny's experience to be the most significant component of the novel, but it's still the layer through which the reader must trudge for the majority.
Thankfully Egan provides more brain fodder than just her drug-addled losers and precocious kids. There's a strange dualism between connection and imagination at play that I'm struggling to interpret. "Connection" here is valued not for the things it connects but for itself. Danny doesn't seem to care who he calls, who left him voice messages, who knows he's alive, but rather that anyone does. His concept of "alto" is not really about understanding. As he says, "perspective, vision, knowledge, wisdom—those words were all too heavy or too light." It seems like a cheap sort of sensation to me, but accurately describes what I'm seeking when I desperately flip between social networking sites.
On the opposing side is Howard and the power of "imagination," or perhaps internalism, the ability to live without connection, to invent the components of life that are lacking. Howard's manifesto on the purpose of the hotel outlines the idea, but so does Holly's description of the purpose of her prison writing class, opening doors inside oneself and whatnot. On the whole the novel seems to consider this kind of storytelling ability to be redemptive (the entire Danny storyline is essentially Ray's way of surviving prison, or perhaps making sense of the events they describe), and we assume Holly's ultimate enactment of the imagined scene Ann described earlier in the book (diving into the warm pool) achieves the same rebirth. But Howard's obsession with this sensation seems almost as pathological as Danny's obsession with empty connection. (view spoiler)[It imperils his marriage, and eventually leads him to relive the single most terrifying event of this life. (hide spoiler)] I'm not sure there's a need to interpret this dualism in normative terms, but the characters seem to see it that way, so should we expect the author to take a side? As a novelist it seems like she's obviously in the imagination camp.
(view spoiler)[The ending, in which we realize that Ray is actually Mick and that Holly is an ex meth head with two beautiful kids was... enjoyable, but difficult to swallow whole. Reading about how perfectly in sync Holly and Ray were during the prison scenes was making me expect another flip in which we realized Ray was writing that section too, and I was a bit disappointed when things ended without tying everything back to a fabrication by Ray. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, if you haven't tried Egan I'd go with Goon Squad. Not sure I'd recommend this one.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Read this long ago. Underneath Ware's visual intricacies are usually the same dull characters and depressing stories that typify adult indie graphic nRead this long ago. Underneath Ware's visual intricacies are usually the same dull characters and depressing stories that typify adult indie graphic novels (I'm thinking Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine and the like), and this book is more of the same, except without the merciful brevity of, say, his contributions to the New York Times Magazine. The intricacies are pretty amazing though. Definitely worth perusing, but perhaps not worth purchasing....more