The tone of this book is emotionally flatlined. Terror, physical ecstasy, hatred and depression all file past in the same abstracted, languorous fashi...moreThe tone of this book is emotionally flatlined. Terror, physical ecstasy, hatred and depression all file past in the same abstracted, languorous fashion: mentioned, but not really written. We know that the early part of this narrator's life was characterized by withdrawal and passive observation and that she has taken to drinking in her middle age (we also know this is a French novella from the end of the 20th century); but these facts don't entirely justify the loosely structured and vaguely experienced narrative.
The few times that the prose seemed to snap into greater focus, was around cherished objects (a fedora, some shoes) or images; but these are static things and however much meaning they are forced to carry, they cannot be as lively as multi-dimensional characters. And "The Lover" is not full of multi-dimensional characters. It has, at most, two. The narrator is somewhat nuanced, the mother is bipolar and everyone else is essentially a drive towards something and a flaw (desire and weakness; power and selfishness; tranquility and terror). I tire of the stereotypical wastrel brother of the speechless cowering brother and also of the precious and spineless lover himself.
But, I did enjoy this book. It came close to being quite good. I just wish that it flexed more or grappled harder or pulled itself together; though, again, I understand that the narrative style could be interpreted as the logical outcome of the storyteller's upbringing. However, and lastly, I can't really abide by the two or three intrusive semi-portraits of society ladies in France; these seemed poorly integrated and diverting--even the appearance of Hellene in the novella seemed under-managed. If she had not existed as a mute alternative and object of desire, she might have been a more interesting collection of words.
Finally, if the girl's age were given as 18 or older, I doubt the book would have been so successful.
It is not because of “City of Glass” that I am continuing into the second book of this trilogy; it is because the second installments are contained be...moreIt is not because of “City of Glass” that I am continuing into the second book of this trilogy; it is because the second installments are contained between the same covers and I neglected to bring an alternate book to the office. It takes hard work to make detective stories dull and to suck the intrigue out of mystery; but Auster seems to know how it’s done. It seems like he had just finished grad school and was filled with the conviction that contriving a book around concepts masquerading as characters who stumble around in symbolic relationship to each other would give readers a wonderful chance to engage with his totally unoriginal thinking on millennia old matters such as chance and free will. His digressions into the age of exploration and the origins of language are entirely forgettable. I hate books that hinge on cleverness; but I pity books that aspire (how ambitious) towards cleverness and fail, ever, to arrive there.(less)
Ever since I was caught completely off-guard by the brilliance of "Grapes of Wrath," I have had my eyes on "East of Eden." Several times the overblown...moreEver since I was caught completely off-guard by the brilliance of "Grapes of Wrath," I have had my eyes on "East of Eden." Several times the overblown pastoral beginning delayed a full reading by months or years--I don't care about "warm foothills," "beckoning mountains" or "five-fingered ferns and goldy-backs."
I should have remembered those distracting set pieces that punctuate the arresting drama of "Grapes of Wrath" and pushed through until the characters got started. Steinbeck has the discipline, craft and insight required to rewrite Genesis while weighing in on just about every major grappling point in the self-actualization of a thoughtful human being. He also has enough respect for working people to ground himself in loyalty, vengeance, debauchery and facts.
Critically, Steinbeck can aerate his novel with dialogue as unpretentious and wonderful as:
"You never wrote much what you were doing," said Charles. "I guess I didn't want to think about it. It was pretty bad, most of it." "I read about the campaigns in the papers. Did you go on those?" "Yes. I didn't want to think about them. Still don't." "Did you kill Injuns?" "Yes, we killed Injuns." "I guess they're real ornery." "I guess so." "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to." "I don't want to." They ate their dinner under the kerosene lamp. "We'd get more light if I would only get around to washing that lampshade."
Reading Steinbeck can feel like participating in history. His characters are giant; they develop over decades and through drawn-out, thoroughly-explored conflicts. He also has a misogynistic streak that produces some amusingly crabby one-liners about the women in his book: all of whom are deeply flawed in one way or another--both as characters and as inventions.
What Steinbeck should I read next? (Assuming that I don't want to get anywhere near shit like "Of Mice and Men.")(less)