this book was selected as the september read, by the in-person book group that is trying to find its feet in our neighbourhood. we are meeting tonightthis book was selected as the september read, by the in-person book group that is trying to find its feet in our neighbourhood. we are meeting tonight to talk about.
i found this an interesting read, and it is clear lavorato did a mountain of research in support of his novel. while neither serafim or claire are particularly sympathetic characters, you can't help but hope the best for them as they seemingly move from one disappointment or act of violence and violation to the next. lavorato's writing is lovely, his experience as a poet is evident in the prose. the novel deals with some really big themes: politics, religion, art, feminism and the women's movement, immigration, morality, class systems, language, family... there is a lot going on in this book. and i think this is where things didn't quite hold together for me. i understand the weaving of all these subjects through his characters - especially as serafim is on the leading edge of what will become photojournalism - but the sheer number of ideas fragmented the flow of the read quite a bit for me. oddly, i felt a little impatient with the story - it seemed to take a long time for claire and serafim to finally connect. (oddly, as i am not, generally, an impatient person.) i quite liked the secondary characters, and found they added a lot of interest for me while i was reading. (claire's grandmother, and seraphim's friend antonino, in particular.)
the author noted in an interview that serafim and claire is "about obsession with your art", and i definitely felt this. though when it came to claire, her obsession does seem to shift to the more nebulous concept of fame as the story progresses, which made for good contemplation.
"saudad" is mentioned in the book, as an untranslatable portuguese word which describes the longing for things that are absent but that may never have been had in the first place. this concept, in the context of fiction, is fantastic! perhaps it could have been the title?
please be forewarned: this is likely going to be a hot-mess of a review. my thoughts are completely unorganized and2 ½-stars, if we could do that here.
please be forewarned: this is likely going to be a hot-mess of a review. my thoughts are completely unorganized and poorly formed. sorry!!
let me distract you from things with a look a this lovely picture for a moment! (from surfer mag, "going public" essay linked below review.)
says finnegan in "doc's games", a two-part 1992 new yorker longread about san francisco surfer/doctor mark reneger (also linked below the review),
“I felt direly confused about surfing…and was trying to sort it out ... I was trying to figure out how to live with the disabling enchantment of surfing.”
and i get this confusion. i felt direly confused a few times while reading this book. it felt, to me, like a major psychological excavation was going on - though not one that comes to any clean or revelatory conclusion. (does anything in a life really do either of these things? tidy endings can be so annoying. haha!!) i am, generally, a fairly quick reader, but it took me a while to work my way through this book. i spent a lot of time considering the work. considering finnegan. and wondering what the end goal was with this thing.
what i didn't get from the book, in contrast to finnegan's statement, was the enchantment (or passion). to me, the telling felt very formal and detached. while it's hugely evident an obsession with surfing is going on, the confusion did surface for me so often while reading because i couldn't feel the love coming off the pages. a lot of times, i felt an indifference about the whole thing from finnegan. i kept hoping to feel some sort of passion from him.
i slightly surprised myself on that front. i had familiarity with finnegan through his new yorker work. and so that formal style shouldn't have been a surprise. but, if you dedicate almost your entire life to one thing - surfing in this case - wouldn't there be a heap of emotional ups and downs conveying the highs and lows, conveying the passion? (though, to be fair, i find the concept of 'passion' - follow your passion - troublesome and murky. just to add a layer of confusion there. sorry!)
while i have never surfed, i find surfing fascinating. i came of age during the 80s, when surfing used to be televised on the saturday or sunday sports shows - and always opened with the agony of defeat (thanks, ABC!). i would be glued to the TV, watching these, to my mind, maniacs in the giant waves of hawaii (usually). and while i profess to be no expert on all of the surf lingo, i didn't find it too much of a stretch in reading barbarian days. my brother and i were also skateboarders, so some of that culture, and those days, did overlap. i do think it would have been cool to provide a glossary and some maps, but mostly because i am a total book nerd who likes extras, beyond photos, with my nonfiction. i think these things would have been a nice concession to readers (though, i suspect hugely distasteful to finnegan). sometimes, it did feel like finnegan took a bit of a pompous tone/perch.
finnegan's writing career certainly has allowed him some wonderful flexibility in his life, to be able to take time off, or work remotely, while balancing his surfing and his income earning. not everyone is so fortunate, so it's pretty awesome how things worked out for him. especially given the aimlessness he conveyed during his 20s. finnegan is a good bit older than i am right now, and when he writes of his surfing from his late-30s through to his present age (60-something), i did wonder a lot about the wear and tear on his body. the ferocity of some of the waves he encountered over the years was conveyed, but i did feel like, often, the injuries or extreme danger, along with his physical state, were often downplayed or brushed over. some of the wipeouts i witnessed during my 80s TV viewing were BRUTAL. i actually only learned about these things in reading articles about finnegan after-the-fact. it's really not pretty! as fascinated as i am by surfing, and as much as i love the ocean... i have never had any desire to find myself in the tube of a giant, powerful wall of water. i have never, ever pretended to have a daredevil bone in my body.
and there does seem to be a huge element of risk-taking involved in surfing. (as there does in finnegan's reporting work which has leaned heavily towards major social issues, political upheaval in war-torn countries, and a good stint covering the mexican drug cartel(s)). i feel like finnegan tries to convey a sense of control over all of this. or methodicalness. or sensibility. and yet, he often ends up in dicey, dangerous, potentially life-ending situations. so... ? when you have no control over a situation, or mother nature, choices can be life-changing.
damn, i am rambling so much! i am sorry. let me get to some sort of point. maybe.
i think there is a really excellent 300 page book in here. at its published heft, it felt like too much. i felt finnegan overwrote, and the work - much like this review - needed more editing. the flow could be really clunky at times. for example, he would close out a section with a fast-forward comment, projecting us ahead. but then the next part would be back in time. also, finnegan has never met a simile or metaphor he did not love. seriously. holy cow. stop it. the book had intense moments, and lulls - i guess to give the feeling of the surf. finnegan could be very thoughtful, and also extremely obtuse. and while - at the end of all of this - i don't believe finnegan has figured it out... his 64yo body has now done that for him. (though from extra reading, he's in awesome shape, all things considered, and i should be so damn lucky!)
while i appreciated much about this book, i mostly felt frustrated by it.
if you are interested in further reading -- some of which served as early components of the book: