My first DNF of 2012, but it didn't come with much heartbreak. That's something to be thankful for, yes?
I was intrigued by the first paragraphs of the...moreMy first DNF of 2012, but it didn't come with much heartbreak. That's something to be thankful for, yes?
I was intrigued by the first paragraphs of the stories [and one novella!], but, ultimately, there was no rewarding follow-through from the author. Off the top of my head, Roeske seems to settle with bland language. She sets up moments that demands for a reach to the poetic, but the language just lies there like a dead fish, and it won’t even give me the courtesy to flop. Gah. In contrast to the contrived lyric atmosphere, the floo-floo mood of the pieces? More than halfway through, I set the book down. I’d rather read me some Alice Munro. She gets shit right.(less)
A long time ago, I had a bootleg copy of this novel, and I remember being so charmed by the tale, so amazed by the inventiveness—scholar goes back in...moreA long time ago, I had a bootleg copy of this novel, and I remember being so charmed by the tale, so amazed by the inventiveness—scholar goes back in time and helps Galahad find the Holy Grail. And I was mad with the delight of rediscovering this and then—Oh god, oh god, oh god. How could my expectations then have been so low? No worries, everyone: I am unrelentingly judging the Sasha of A Long Time Ago.(less)
The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of others?
She laid the book down open beside a few others. She wanted to think, to let it await her. She would go back to it, read again, read on, bathe in the richness of its plates.
An astonishingly beautiful quote about reading—although only the first line applies to my experience with the book whence it came. Yes: I have given up on Light Years, after a too-long struggle—brought on by the weight of the book’s reputation and, consequently, the fact that I wanted to prove something to myself. (That, what? I’m enlightened—illuminated!—enough to appreciate this little wonder?) I’m sorry, Richard Ford and all you great writers and esteemed readers who swear by this book—but I didn’t find Light Years and James Salter’s relentless lyrical gymnastics to be worthy substitutes for all that is good and holy in this wee world of ours.
* * *
What makes Light Years such a classic, I’ve been told, is that it best displays James Salter’s status as a formalistic master. This is the book that shows you how it’s done—this is a skillful manipulation of the English language, Sasha. However, Salter’s storytelling is precisely the crux of my problem with his book: His painstaking form rendered his story unreadable. The people in these pages were unformed, never whole to me—just impressions wrought by broad strokes of lush prose.
Oh, there were moments of clarity here and there. That is: Once in a while, the impenetrable shroud that is this book’s language deigns to lift to let this poor reader in. I especially loved—mostly because it made me hopeful!—this scene early on in the novel where Nedra asks her husband if he was happy. And Viri goes: “Was he happy? The question was so ingenuous, so mild. There were things he dreamed of doing that he feared he never would. He often weighed his life. And yet, he was young still, the years stretched before him like endless plains.” But before Viri can respond to his lovely wife, truths about this marriage—about Nedra—hits him:
Her instinct, he knew, was sharp. She had the even teeth of a sex that nips thread in two, that cut as cleanly as a razor. All her power seemed concentrated on her ease, her questioning glance. He cleared his throat.
“Yes, I suppose I’m happy.”
Silence. The traffic ahead had begun to move.
And that’s the kind of volatility—of that ever-fascinating rumble beneath the surface of the seemingly-mundane—that I wanted from this book. That is: I wanted to feel like there was something at stake—like in the scene above. That way, I could commit to the text. I could commit to the story Salter has been at pains to tell me; I could actually know these people I’m reading about. I could actually read as though every page wasn’t a test of my intelligence, of my due appreciation of the art and craft of writing.
* * *
Notes, dated January 10: I don’t know who put this on my radar, but it’s the kind of book I swore by when I was seventeen. I’ve waited years to own this book. When I finally had a copy to call my own, I began reading, only to set it aside, telling myself it wasn’t the right time. That was nearly two years ago. Let’s try this again, shall we?
Notes, dated January 12: I’m about seventy pages in at the moment; already Light Years feels like a bitter reminder of the literary preoccupations I had in college: When I was much younger and, thus, had more promise—when I could write what I wanted to write, and I did it well, I believed so hard that I did it well. James Salter feels now like something I idolized then. (Feel old yet, darling?)
Notes, dated January 14: Have been reading the Salter still, and it’s slow going. The painstaking prose rather feels like Nedra and Viri—and the host of characters that sashay in and out of their lives—are living under glass. Which only estranges them. Maybe I’ve expected too much from this book? I’ll soldier on.
Notes, dated January 16: My relationship with Salter’s book has become quite dismal. I open to the page I left off, and have no idea who the people are. I spend my time with it rereading what I just read, giving up and then hunting for the good parts to quote (oh, and there are many), and then feeling guilty and telling myself to read right.
Notes, dated January 22: Please see what you can do with Salter. You two haven’t been getting along, have you—aside from the occasional turn of phrase plucked from this novel whose prose Ford and many others have touted proxy-goodness? Maybe it’s this book, and maybe it’s me—maybe I’m no longer the kind of reader—the kind of person? the kind of girl?—who falls head over heels in love with writers like Salter and novels like Light Years. Now there’s a potentially depressing thought.
Notes, dated January 23: This is Light Years’ last chance. If nothing happens, it is time to put you to rest. I commit myself to you, tonight, you damned book, and if I am not starry-eyed by midnight, you are retiring to the shadowed corner of my shelves.
[And lines upon lines of beautiful prose lifted from the book, jotted down almost regrettably. That odd guilt in realizing that you’re only reading something to get quotes, never mind that at least you have that one consolation.]
* * *
Basically: I wanted a book. And Salter’s Light Years hardly ever felt that way for me.
I’ve mentioned the wtfuckery that abounds in Daphne du Maurier’s collection of “lost” short stories, Th...moreWhat I wrote right before I decided to give up:
I’ve mentioned the wtfuckery that abounds in Daphne du Maurier’s collection of “lost” short stories, The Doll. I’m only halfway-ish through the book—that’s six stories down—and each one of those stories has a half-baked feel I can’t shake off, and majority simply has me scratching my poor head. That is: None of these is the du Maurier short fiction I’ve come to know. Though her always-to-die-for prose is present, all of the stories—with the [begrudging] exception of the title story—simply feels like du Maurier had an idea, picked up some loose leaf, and ran with it. If I were a snide little gremlin, I’d say something like: Oh, is it a wonder these stories were lost?
A quick rundown of the stories I’ve read thus far:
* We’re welcomed to the collection by “East Wind,” which feels like a not-that-subtle allegory of how colonialism is the worst thing ever: See how our men have forgotten work, they’re off smoking cheroots and raiding the ship for brandy, having a good time with sailors-at-port, whilst their women are willingly bedded by these pale-skinned strangers. And then, of course, the next day, the strangers skedaddle, leaving the islanders cleaning up the mess everyone made in that mini-episode of hysteria. Myeh.
* And then there’s “The Doll”—I mean, if I were hard-pressed to pick one short story I don’t want to tear into bits and pieces, it would be this. It’s a du Maurier almost doing her best: A tale of jealousy and obsession, turned on its ear with a Gothic undertone and lots of macabre-feels you can’t shake off. It deceives you, which I like. It really does seem like some the-madness-of-jealousy thing, but it soon enough turns creeptastic, making me go, “There! That’s the du Maurier I know and love, by Jove! That’s the sick fuck I’ve read!” But—there’s a depth missing to it. It feels like a creep-fast, and stops at that.
* The good feelings fizzled with “And Now to God a Father,” a story about a charismatic vicar who just feels really skeevy for some reason. But du Maurier doesn’t follow through—something that characterizes most of the short stories in the collection. Things got worse with “A Difference in Temperament”—which irritatingly feels like a writing exercise: How do you, quite explicitly, show that two people who love each other have different personalities, which might just doom their relationship?
And then I read other stories but I’d grown increasingly disenchanted. I think there’s one where newlyweds get into one scrape after another on their honeymoon—drive a car to nowhere, car disappears with all their stuff, they pitch a tent, tent falls on their faces, ring disappears, a landlady nearly throws them out for attempting to live in sin. Yadda yadda yadda, it’s all this schmaltzy, ridiculous crock. And then there’s another one about a whore, and that could have worked, but I don’t care.
Sigh. There’s something very dated with these stories—no, not because they were written in them days of yore, ha-ha—but because they have this feel of the no-point short stories anthologized in textbooks, the ones assigned to me in high school? And almost all of them are mildly moralistic, stylistically conventional, and an all-around bore. Augh. I don’t even know if I’m moving forward with this, if I’m going to read the last seven stories. It feels like I’m wasting my time—and if the guilt rears its ugly head, I could always reason that I gave it six chances.(less)
That such a lazy, clunky, Dear-Diary-This-is-what-high-school-should've-been-like dreck very nearly defines—or threatens to define—contemporary Philip...moreThat such a lazy, clunky, Dear-Diary-This-is-what-high-school-should've-been-like dreck very nearly defines—or threatens to define—contemporary Philippine literature makes me dizzy. The badness makes one laugh hysterically. Oh man, good times.(less)