Not as consistently excellent as Forty Stories or Sixty Stories, but a few solid stories here for those who have tackled the other collections and neeNot as consistently excellent as Forty Stories or Sixty Stories, but a few solid stories here for those who have tackled the other collections and need more Barthelme....more
DeLillo's prose is excellent, but his worldview is at times so repulsive that he makes it had to finish even the shortest novel. Still, he's worth reaDeLillo's prose is excellent, but his worldview is at times so repulsive that he makes it had to finish even the shortest novel. Still, he's worth reading for his stylistic prowess and great use of irony. ...more
Nihilism just should not be this funny. The beginning didn't really work for me, but once Barth gets rolling, his humor hits home in a very dark placeNihilism just should not be this funny. The beginning didn't really work for me, but once Barth gets rolling, his humor hits home in a very dark place. I would give this one five stars, but I would just feel too cynical....more
This is the funniest book I have read in a long time. I can't remember the last book that made me laugh out loud as much as this one. Barthelme has toThis is the funniest book I have read in a long time. I can't remember the last book that made me laugh out loud as much as this one. Barthelme has to be one of the most underrated writers of the last century.
The stories in this collection are very short, usually 3-5 pages, and all are fairly fragmented, oblique works of art. I'd recommend Barthelme to any fan of the post-moderns or experimental fiction in general. You know you are in for a good story that opens with lines like:
"Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he'd gone too far, so we decided to hang him."
"Yes, the saint was underrated quite a bit, then, mostly by people who didn't like things that were ineffable."
And each of these stories just gets better as you go along. I'm still laughing....more
The Prologue is positively spellbinding, and it's no exaggeration to say that the opening 50 pages of this sprawling tome contain some of the finest pThe Prologue is positively spellbinding, and it's no exaggeration to say that the opening 50 pages of this sprawling tome contain some of the finest prose I've ever read. But the 800 some odd pages that follow don't live up to the promise of the opening. There are some fine moments and some more great writing, but it did drag much of the time. In fact, this is a bit of a pattern with DeLillo's work, and I may just start reading the intros to his novels and skipping the rest....more
Gaddis has one of the most unique narrative styles I've come across, and it's the style that really makes this novel. Written almost entirely in unattGaddis has one of the most unique narrative styles I've come across, and it's the style that really makes this novel. Written almost entirely in unattributed dialogue, Frolic is about a pretentious would-be playwright who sues the producers of a blockbuster gore fest of a Civil War movie which the playwright alleges infringes on his unpublished/never-performed play on the same subject. What ensues is a zany tangle of lawsuits, countersuits, ethical violations galore, and family infighting which together form a long, dense attack on American popular culture, religion, and most obviously the legal profession/industry and the absurdly strong American impulse to litigate.
The reason to read Gaddis is for his use of dialogue. When I think of lifelike dialogue, I typically think of writers like Salinger who have an excellent ear for dialogue that sounds as if people were really talking, but with grammar that is better suited for the page than the fragments most people actually speak in. If you've ever read the transcript of a deposition or trial, you understand how awful it can be to read the way even really smart people actually talk. Well, Gaddis pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of writing dialogue in the halting, fragmented syntax people actually use in the real world, but which is punchy and beautiful and extremely fun to read. He even includes a full-length deposition right in the novel. Which is not to say that the characters do not employ uncharacteristically intelligent vocabularies and witty epigrams.
And the strength of Gaddis's dialogue is not just how lifelike it is, but how Gaddis uses unattributed spoken word to develop character and drive plot with almost no exposition at all. Once you get into the book, you have very little difficulty knowing who is talking, who is present, what the characters are doing and thinking, and how much time is elapsing -- all without a narrator telling you any of this explicitly or with physical detail outside of the characters' speech. In addition to dialogue, Gaddis also adds in the full text of legal opinions, briefs and depositions, as well as most of the protagonist's play, as if to say that we understand the world only in text as it exists in the real world. In fact, the 1% or so of the novel in which Gaddis reverts to exposition is the book's primary weakness. I can't imagine why he decided to let dialogue and interior texts carry so much weight of the novel without carrying the whole of it.
Another problem with the novel is that Gaddis gets so deep into the law that he was bound to make a few glaring legal errors, such as a confusion of federalism and preemption issues, and improper use of legal terms of art like "judicial notice." Small blunders which really stand out. While the amount of legal research Gaddis obviously did is impressive, the solid grasp he has on copyright law and even federal procedure only make his errors all the more glaring. I read this book shortly after finishing The Floating Opera by John Barth, which I felt used a more optimal amount of legal discussion to critique the law. By diving in as deeply as Gaddis did here, he was bound to get some things wrong.
I also tend to get tired of the self-consciously heavy-handed puns that some of the old guard postmodernists just can't resist, like naming the car manufacturer at the heart of a products liability suit "Sosumi" and calling the white shoe firm defending the copyright suit "Swine & Dour." It's kind of Gaddis's schtick, but stuff like that wears a little thin for me.
Overall though, Gaddis is clearly a formidable voice in the 20th Century canon, and it's amazing to me that it took me so long to hear about him. I've frequently looked for his titles at bookstores and found that almost nobody carries his stuff. I think his work deserves to be read if for no other reason than his incredible narrative style....more
I had to give Pynchon a try after reading Infinite Jest, but it just didn't live up to my expectations. To be sure, there are some serious rhetoricalI had to give Pynchon a try after reading Infinite Jest, but it just didn't live up to my expectations. To be sure, there are some serious rhetorical high points, particularly the closing pages of the novel. But Pynchon is at bottom a satirist, and his sense of humor just didn't quite connect with me. When a novel's raison d'etre is comedic -- however mordant the comedy -- it's just not going to be very fulfilling for one who doesn't find it funny. And while I can appreciate the innovation in Pynchon's maze-like structure and how the formal elements of the novel mirror the book's thematic content (paranoia, confusion, farce), the frantic pace of the narrative grew tiresome pretty quickly for me.
Worth reading for the handful of startling and rewarding sentences in the novel, but just barely....more
It took me a couple of months to slog through Infinite Jest, and it has taken me several more months to write a review about it. After spending so lonIt took me a couple of months to slog through Infinite Jest, and it has taken me several more months to write a review about it. After spending so long reading a book of this length and depth and complexity, you develop a relationship with it, and finishing the book is a little like breaking up. I knew I had had some tremendous times with the book, but there were dark times, annoying times, and repulsive times too; and after the book ended abruptly and without resolution, I knew it was a great book but had a hard time evaluating the experience I had just been through. Now, a few months removed from the experience (because reading this book is an experience), I can evaluate the book with more detachment, less emotional investment.
I knew almost nothing about David Foster Wallace or this book when I started, and that is probably the best way to read this book. If you read a synopsis and learn that it deals with drug additcts and junior league tennis, you probably won't be that interested. I wouldn't have been. But DFW's real subject is the human condition around the new millennium, and the tools he uses to explore life's grand questions are far less important than the questions themselves. So any discussion about what this book is "about" in terms of plot will miss the point. Plus, Infinite Jest's canvas is so wide that even though many of the content of the book will not appeal to you, chances are much of it will. Personally, I don't much relate to illicit drug use or tennis, but the book's allusions to Italian avant garde film, excursions into my old neighborhood in the Allston-Brighton areas outside Boston, and invocations of my favorite operas are just a few examples of the jokes I was "in on," the content which gave me a deeper look at DFW's genius. But even the references and jokes that were esoteric and unfamiliar still reached me on some level because DFW has the patience to bring you along as far as he can.
The first thing to know about this book before reading it is that it is hilarious. DFW claimed to be surprised when people told him they found the book funny because he meant it to be sad, but the novel's humor is unmistakable. The book is definitely very sad, but it also has some of the most hilarious moments I've ever seen in print. Wallace has this knack for taking an absurd premise and taking it not just to the limits of your acceptable satire but far, far beyond the bounds of absurdity that you can imagine anyone else ever taking a joke.
The other thing to know about this book before reading is that there is no resolution, at least not in any conventional sense. In fact, the central event of the book basically takes place outside the structure of the novel. And the structure is highly experimental and nonlinear, which can also be vexing to readers. If you are going to put the effort into reading this book, then you should probably be willing to accept that it will leave you hanging in the end. In that sense, the book's title is not just a reference to Hamlet, which is critical, and not just a joke about the book's own bloated size, but also a prediction that the book's meaning will vex you long after you've put it down, maybe forever.
But while the very excess of this book is its gift, it's also its curse. For every time Wallace takes a joke so far you can't stop laughing, there is an absurdly graphic and disgusting image that also sticks with you far too long. The violence and perversity are beyond gratuitous. Personally, I could have down without the whole Poor Tony Krause subplot, and there was a truly vile scene in one of the final footnotes involving HIV and a razor blade that almost provoked me to quit the book with very few pages left. I keep wanting to dial down my praise of this book on account of the gratuitous brutality and darkness that just gets out of hand sometimes. But the ugliness may be on some level a key part of the book because in many ways it is a book about depression and suicide, which is incredibly haunting reading this book knowing DFW's ultimate fate.
But it's not just a book about depression, it's also a book about entertainment and commercialism. Although these latter are strangely variations on the themes of depression and death (only DFW could take extended jokes about Cheers reruns and make them sad and lonely and moving).
It's also a book about the nature of genius, the purpose of art, the joys of language, the mysteries and contradictions of family life, the problem of pain, and the strange power of platitudinous truths. It's a book about life and death and God and how the search to understand these deep questions is never-ending and not always rewarding, much like death as we know it and the book itself and this review . . ....more