What a wonderful book. I found it remarkable, the authority Creech uses to voice her protagonist, Jack. At times it truly felt like the classroom jour...moreWhat a wonderful book. I found it remarkable, the authority Creech uses to voice her protagonist, Jack. At times it truly felt like the classroom journal of a young boy. I was amazed by how a simple story, with such a narrow perspective, with such sparse prose/poetry, could so clearly establish a character and discuss broader themes in literature and education. Creech is marvelous. The way every line alludes to the happenings beyond the immediate text. It is layered and tightly written. The story is strengthened by omission.
My only complaint with the book was the decision to include the poems referenced in the narrative, and the excerpt from Hate That Cat. I don't see why it was needed. I think it was a missed opportunity for creating a more interactive reading experience. Let the reader go out in search of those poems. It will make it all the more satisfying. Of course, this might only be the case with the edition I read. (less)
Sparse and beautifully written. Not a wasted word.
The narrative conceit is pushed to its limits in chapter nine as the second person--YOU--evolves in...moreSparse and beautifully written. Not a wasted word.
The narrative conceit is pushed to its limits in chapter nine as the second person--YOU--evolves into a removed WE, presumably the all-seeing, all-knowing, government, which leads to moments of omnipresence. Although, throughout the novel perspective shifts to other characters it is never as dramatic as it is in chapter nine. It precedes the first true reveal of a first person "I" in chapter 10, accordingly as it announces the twilight of the lead character and, as HE is US, the reader, we come a step closer to meeting our creator.
This widening perspective, the going "beyond yourself", is a strong theme throughout the novel and one of the strongest aspects of the book. The break down of walls and narrative limits culminates in a moving ending that reveals in our shared humanity. I wanted to go out and hug a stranger. The empathy evoked by this book is powerful stuff.
I was very impressed by how Hamid establishes universality in the details. Many of the descriptions could be any major city in the vastness of Asia, but in the moments when he lingers the book makes strong connections.(less)
I love this book. But I didn't at first. Like some of my favorite things, the book grew on me, page after page. I found the excessive use of dialogue...moreI love this book. But I didn't at first. Like some of my favorite things, the book grew on me, page after page. I found the excessive use of dialogue tags unbearable in the beginning. Mitchell's creative dialogue tag syndrome initially caused problems because I was often forced to stop, interpret, and evaluate if the dialogue agrees with the tag. I was often frustrated by Mitchell's tendency to interrupt a character mid-sentence to mention that somewhere in the background a dog is barking. But after a few chapters this became representative of the very thing that makes the book incredible.
Page 170: "Iwase translates this for the benefit of Chamberlain Tomine. Eaves drip; dogs bark; an angry rash itches against Jacob's stockings. 'The Shenabdoah has space for Dejima's stock.' Lacy fishes in his jacket for a jewelled box of snuff. 'We began loading this afternoon.'"
Here the interruptions, the descriptions of movement, noises in the background and skin conditions, make the scene more immersive. Throughout the book the reader is provided with the sights and sounds and smells that surround the present action. The reader experiences --"sees"--what is happening in the foreground and the background, making it easier to visualize Dejima. It is cinematic. This book is an experience. (less)
This small novel packs a punch. Zadie Smith, speaking on The Quiet American applauded Greene for weaving such complicated threads into a linear novel...moreThis small novel packs a punch. Zadie Smith, speaking on The Quiet American applauded Greene for weaving such complicated threads into a linear novel that is thematically compact and enjoyable.
I agree completely. The Quiet American is concise and tightly written. It is fast moving but substantive. Greene never wastes time with over directional prose. If a character walks across a room to light another characters cigarette, Greene just writes it. He focuses on details that help give the reader a broader understanding of the Indochina these characters inhabit. Every description of setting works to move the narrative. He avoids every potential pitfall for a story set in 20th century Vietnam. He does not try to drown the reader in the “beauty” or the “horror.” He gives just enough to effectively establish a sense of place and action.
Greene offers no explanations or prescriptions for such a complicated political conflict--he recognizes that the issues framing his narrative are not so easily understood. Despite Fowler's cynicism and Pyle’s inherent judgment, the novel is compassionate. Even at its most brutal moments, there is never a sense of condemnation. He uses the war as a venue, a context to discuss the varying degrees of human cruelty and the underlying selfishness that often serves our motivation. Greene asks, “What constitutes evil, and how do we determine what actions are unforgivable?
Also, there is some great dialogue here, especially between Pyle and Fowler (See Chapter 2, Part 2). (less)
The choice in setting—a small college town during Monica Lewinsky’s testimony—succeeds in establishing the attitude of the time and skillfully mirrors...moreThe choice in setting—a small college town during Monica Lewinsky’s testimony—succeeds in establishing the attitude of the time and skillfully mirrors Coleman’s persecution. I love the use of non-linear story telling, switchback time and going further into the past while in a flashback. I enjoyed many of the digressions and how they provided deeper insight to the characters. The explanation of Coleman’s speech to his Gods, Myths and Heroes class is a great example of this, and illustrates the character’s “considerable vanity.”
Overall, I was impressed by how well Roth presents a familiar story and keeps it engaging. Even on a sentence level the run-ons help push the reader forward, giving the narrative a fluid, conversational style similar to an oral storytelling. Excellent use of foreshadowing, layering, and Roth isn’t afraid to linger in details, like the scene describing Faunia milking cows.
The novel’s themes—“what can be avoided/whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?”—are clearly established and the well-plotted personal history of the characters gives the text a proper scaffold. The Human Stain has a historical focus and by using the characters as a point of entry it makes the book feel less like a lesson in U.S. History.
There is some great dialogue, especially in the first quarter of the novel, between Nathan Zuckerman and Coleman Silk. Roth does a fine job of using the dialogue to reveal more about the nature of the characters, Coleman with page-long diatribes and Nathan with quick, but thoughtful, responses, like, "What undid her?" There is this awakening in Nathan after a memorable visit with Coleman that brings them closer, and naturally the dialogue reflects Nathan’s feeling more comfortable. Nathan becomes more verbal, his responses growing longer and longer.
However, I have issues with Nathan Zuckerman as a plot device. I know he is a recurring narrator in Roth’s novels but there are times the writing works too hard to fix the inherent contradictions Nathan presents to the narrative structure. There are huge point of view shifts. The narrative moves from a removed first-person, to a close third-person where the written narrative takes on the language of other characters, and then it's almost omnipresent as the narrator, Nathan, conveys information without providing an explanation of how he acquired these intimate details and without implicitly stating that these are the circumstances as he imagines them. The reader is allowed access to Coleman’s intimate thoughts and then, on the following line, told that Primus is being so candid with Coleman because Primus' wife, Beth, expressed some concern for Coleman's situation.
There are some much needed chapter breaks that could better ease the reader into the POV shifts. Yes, shifts this dramatic can be done to the benefit of the story, I think of Revolutionary Road as a fitting example of this working, but here it just becomes distracting. Because the reader is first introduced to the story through the narrative conceit of Nathan, the reader, without a more significant clue than a line-break, stays on the lookout for Nathan over the next 200 pages. I spent a lot if time waiting for Nathan to interject, to come poking back in. It was hard to keep myself immersed in the story because I was wondering where Nathan had gone. He just vanished.
Of course Nathan does return in the second half of the novel, to explain how he knows all of this, and to clarify that some of it is indeed imagined, but his reappearance only adds further frustration. I finished the book thinking, did we need Nathan at all? Besides the intertextuality, besides the fact that a fictional narrator is a clever nod to the old world classics that Coleman Silk would teach to his students at Athena College, besides the fact that Roth has used Nathan Zuckerman before, how does this character benefit the story? I’m still not sure that he does.
Nathan becomes intrusive towards the end of the novel, ruining scenes with over-explanation and repeating ideas and emotions already conveyed by dialogue. He slows things down. The conversation with Lester Farley on the ice would be more suspenseful and dramatic without Nathan interrupting the external dialogue with his opinion on what is happening. The characters are set, the landscape and context have been provided, let the moment carry itself. No need for more rumination here. At one point Lester tells Nathan a war story—a story mentioned earlier in the book—and this dialogue is immediately followed by "He's telling me a war story, I thought." Nathan then goes on to explain to himself, and to the reader, why Lester is telling the war story. Roth leaves no room for the reader to make their own associations, creating a less interactive, and less rewarding, reading experience.
So much of the novel is over-determined and heavy-handed. The character of Lester Farley is clichéd and empty. So much time is given to this character. So many of the passages about Les are repetitive. Okay. Many Vietnam veterans returned home with psychological trauma. We didn’t offer them the support they needed. It’s horrible. By 1998 does anyone disagree that Vietnam was horrible? This character says nothing new, and every moment spent following him feels like a bad digression as it offers no further insight that couldn't have been established in a more concise way. Everything the reader needs to know about Lester Farley is given in Coleman's recanting to Nathan. Lester is a static character.
At times the novel is preachy. Roth doesn't allow his point to sink in, he bashes the reader over the head with it repeatedly through a stream of verbose run-ons. A good example can be found in Ernestine's response after being told about Coleman's “spooks” incident. She talks about how urban development killed the black community, how education, the world, everything is not what it used to be. It reeks of nostalgia. It is thinly veiled and over-sentimental.
I am disappointed by how often Roth finds new ways to repeat himself. The number of paragraphs from the first half of the novel that reappear later in the book, copy and paste, disappoints me. There were some other small things. Dangling modifiers and pronouns that obscure meaning.
For example, on page 121: “But he also knew what wasn’t going on, at the center of his life anyway. The protection of his parents, the protection provided by Walt as his older, six-foot-two-and-a-half-inch brother, his running prowess (“the fastest kid in the Oranges”), even his color, which made of him someone that people sometimes couldn’t quite figure out—all this combined to mute for Coleman the insults that Walter found intolerable.”
What is Roth saying here? What protection? The running prowess is attributed to what? To whose color is it referring, Walt’s skin color? And how does the ambiguity of his race benefit him?
Here’s another one, page 262: “It’s not that she’s now prejudiced, it’s just that she realizes she would not have so misjudged a man of her own race.”
What does that mean? Is this to be considered Delphine Roux’s opinion or Nathan Zuckerman’s interpretation? Are people inherently better at judging the character of people from their own race? Portions of the novel feel deliberately vague and hint to hesitation.(less)
If you read just one graphic-memoir about an Obsessive Compulsive Lesbian and her closeted Gay father, make sure it's this one. Fun Home is a perfect...moreIf you read just one graphic-memoir about an Obsessive Compulsive Lesbian and her closeted Gay father, make sure it's this one. Fun Home is a perfect book.
Bechdel is a brilliant artist and writer:
"...maybe I'm trying to render my senseless personal loss meaningful by linking it, however posthumously, to a more coherent narrative" (196). Fun Home triumphs because Bechdel makes those connections between the intimate details of her life and the greater world which surrounds them. (less)
So obviously unfinished, at times I felt like I was reading files from Bolano's Trash Folder. The whole book feels like deleted bits from a larger wor...moreSo obviously unfinished, at times I felt like I was reading files from Bolano's Trash Folder. The whole book feels like deleted bits from a larger work, 2666. However, there is some amazing writing in Woes of the True Policeman, and there is some satisfaction when aspects of the numerous story lines begin to overlap towards the end.
Chapters 18 and 19 in Part II: Amalfitano and Padilla are incredible and showcase the book's most redeeming quality, the criticisms of art and literature in the 20th Century. The way Bolano layers a fictional narrative with references to real works and artists (OULIPO, Gombrowicz, Larry Rivers, etc) give the text some much needed depth. There is no clear plot. There are no clear motivations. No arcs and no conclusions, with exception to the character of Padilla who evolves from a plot device, a mere catalyst, to the book's real protagonist. The commentary and the observations of the characters, their letters and their conversations, make it a worthwhile read.
Also, I found the Arcimboldi chapters impressive. Bolano gives brief summaries of fictional narratives by a fictional author. Each could be unpacked into a full novel. Ultimately, these chapters are frustrating for 2 reasons. 1. They illustrate just how talented Bolano is/was and how much more he could have offered. 2. They interrupt the development of the plot just as it is beginning to delve into one of the novel's most intriguing characters, Rosa. (less)