I typically don't give second chances. But I did for you, and I'm glad for it.
In high school I dismissed you after about 100 pageDear The Corrections,
I typically don't give second chances. But I did for you, and I'm glad for it.
In high school I dismissed you after about 100 pages. For eternity, I thought. All style and nothing I wanted to read! Your characters sickened me to my very core. Enid was a shallow simpleton who cared too much about being liked and accepted by other people. Alfred, a stubborn old man who so obviously did not care if other people disliked him that you couldn't help disliking him. Chip, the biggest loser in the world, with no common sense and no moral compass. Denise, yet another pretty, successful, bitchy young woman over-sexualized by the story and the writer himself simply for being a young woman. Gary, who didn't actually appear onstage in the first 100 pages, but who, based on the track record of the other delightful characters, was bound to be a Wall Street asshole. Good God. What a bunch of dumbass selfish hicks. Coming from a minority, partially immigrant family rooted in Los Angeles, I saw nothing of any relevance or significance in your pages. Sure, the actual words were amazing, almost miraculous in the command and imagination of the English language, but like hell I would put up with feeling homicidal for 500+ pages.
And so I shut the lid and tossed you into my closet.
And so you continued to haunt me, not because I wanted to read you, but because you were terrifying. I dropped your name frequently. Any time another book reminded me of you, even slightly, even when it was so inferior it had no business being compared to you (see: The Post-Birthday World, pure excrement) I still made the unflattering connection. Why? I'd had run-ins with much worse books. And then a magazine that has seriously lost its cachet nevertheless struck envy into the hearts of all the insecure literary writers of this era by declaring your writer, the arrogant? snobbish? asshole? cool? Jonathan Franzen, the new Great American Novelist. So I reconsidered. Could your characters have been that awful? Could I really not forgive them in light of Franzen's unfairly brilliant prose? Perhaps there was something to be learned from your pages after all.
Wow! You're quite the surprise. Maybe you're surprising because I expected you to be torturous due to your characters and your literary bent. You really did look like one of those "deep" social commentary books that says a whole lot but does nothing in the here and now. You looked like a lot of things, none of which was a good, interesting story. Yet that's just what you turned out to be.
Behind the incredible style is some pretty real substance. You've got the wide-angle omniscient narrator of a great Victorian novel and the prose of a true virtuoso (reminded favorably of Martin Amis).
This is not to say your characters grew on me. Oh, no. They're just as selfish and stupid as I remembered, and Gary, whom I hadn't met before, is perhaps the worst. (No, Enid is the worst. No, Chip. Ugh.) But it mattered less this time around. Call it tolerance, or something. Denise is...particularly interesting, not necessarily as a human being, but as a character in the way Franzen writes her. He gives her the standard treatment of straight male writers to youngish female characters. In other words, he sexualizes her right out of the box (from her brother's point of view, no less) and traces the development of her sexuality from girlhood into the present. Her sexuality is a big deal, and how she's perceived by other people is a big deal, big in the way you know they wouldn't matter a damn if she were less pretty, less white, or less female. I get that this ties in to the good ol' midwestern values of St. Jude, or something, but the fact remains that this is a cliche and lazy way to develop a character. What's interesting is that Franzen turns this cliche on its head, just a bit. This twist, too, is predictable, although back in 2001 it was probably fresh. Maybe it's because of the way Franzen bandies about with Denise's character that I almost sympathized with her and almost liked her in comparison to the others. Alfred is okay, too. The reveal at the end about why he really resigned from his job singlehandedly makes him the most interesting human being here. He also identifies with objects over people and hallucinates menacing pieces of shit (literally) dancing around his room. So overall, book, you've got a few faintly humorous moments.
Onto your story. You're pretty well-structured, and you jump from present to past and character to character seamlessly. Most of what happens isn't anything special. Some of it is overwrought and difficult to believe (Robin/Brian, Chip in Lithuania). Some of it is painful (Gary/Caroline...Jesus Christ, Chip/Melissa, and nearly every Enid/Alfred scene). In fact, most of your scenes are painful in a way. That's fine, because you wouldn't be you, and your characters wouldn't be so memorable, without that pain.
What trips me up are the moments when you don't seem real, especially for a "realistic" book. The overwrought parts mentioned above are an example. Chip in Lithuania is totally contrived. Maybe I don't remember Web 1.0 well enough (was it that ridiculous?), but this part just reads like a bad action movie. The Robin/Brian section, which is much longer, could have been believable if Franzen had bothered to show instead of tell us ad nauseum why Denise likes these two so much. The interpersonal relationships here are hollow and flat, and I don't know whether this is because Denise is supposed to be hollow and flat, or whether Franzen got all worked up trying too hard to write the "other," and this is the product of his gross misunderstanding.
Compare these to the excellently rendered (and oh so painful) Gary/Caroline section or the scenes of Chip teaching his pretentious class, then with Melissa, and then with fish in his pants at The Nightmare of Consumption. And the ever-annoying Enid is always believable.
I really enjoyed the coincidences running throughout your story, e.g., Nomatics, W___ Corporation, Mexican A, the conversation about wiping out personalities, etc. Cool, subtle worldbuilding.
Lastly, a word on the technophobia. It's pretty obvious that the way we engage with cell phones and the Internet has undergone a massive change since 2001, when you were published. You talk about the dot-com bubble, shady static websites, landline charges, pay phones, and cell phones as a luxury. Yes, you're dated. But you're also a time capsule. I'm just old enough to remember the days before cell phones became ubiquitous, when everyone was on dial-up and the Internet was a place where you could hide. Personality over identity. Those were great days, and you remind me of them.
Happy second chances,
P.S. Here's a sentence from your beginning that I want to share, mainly because it displays (1) Franzen's wordsmithy ways and (2) Franzen's pretentious nature. It's so terrible.
He began a sentence: "I am--" but when he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he'd entered, he would realize that the crumbs he'd dropped for bearings had been eating by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn't quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren't uniform, weren't an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he'd encountered the word "crepuscular" in McKay's Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so that for his entire adult life he'd seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of a kind of sinister decay; and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn't just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he'd sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant of realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and the next, or rather he became trapped in that space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing on out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see if the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he'd entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods--"packing my suitcase," he heard himself say.
(Old review from 3/27/2008 about my 2006 attempt)
I didn't really read this book. I read the first 100-200 pages and couldn't stand it anymore. Don't get me wrong, Jonathan Franzen writes AMAZINGLY well, and when I say amazing I usually mean it. His prose gave me the shivers. But the characters in this book are so wretched that I couldn't bear the thought of even trying to tough them out for the next 400+ pages. I am the kind of person who will only put a book down with the intention of finishing it later, but I have put this one down forever. Reading it made me feel homicidal. Someday I'll give Franzen another chance (only because of his prose), but not with this book. Oprah liked this? Seriously?...more
Couldn't finish. Doris Lessing lets the (rather cool) concept carry the whole book instead of developing the story in an interesting manner. It wouldCouldn't finish. Doris Lessing lets the (rather cool) concept carry the whole book instead of developing the story in an interesting manner. It would have been way better had it taken place in real time rather than in the historical notes of a Roman scholar. Then again, that would have required Lessing to come up with a reasonable explanation for why the Clefts bled when they cut red flowers and why they stopped being able to reproduce "by the moon" once they started having sex with the Monsters/Squirts. There is neither reason nor any life in this book. It's as if she lost her passion for the story but charged on just to publish and be done with it. This book is also extremely heteronormative. It takes predefined notions of gender and sexuality and...defines them in the very same way. It's not challenging, groundbreaking, or even interesting in the least after the initial setup. I'd wanted to read it since it came out in 2007, in spite of the bad reviews. Sadly, the reviews were correct.
One more thing. The "science magazine" from which this idea is ripped certainly must have been referring to the fact that all embryos begin as female, NOT that the human race was completely female at the beginning....more
This is basically a soap opera with brains and direction, which is my favorite kind of book ever. The character development is EXTRAORDINARY. I recommThis is basically a soap opera with brains and direction, which is my favorite kind of book ever. The character development is EXTRAORDINARY. I recommend this book on that facet alone. I didn't read this as an exemplification of Sartre's philosophy, but rather as a study of the philosophy of the characters in the story. None of these people are truly likable, but they are all the more human because of that. Even the most agreeable people think disagreeable thoughts. This is something most of us realize, at least on some level, but I don't think I've ever seen it rendered so well in fiction. I am pretty much still sitting here in awe at the complexity of Sartre's understanding of human motivation. I could also relate to Mathieu, sort of how I identified somewhat with Hamlet. Yes, he is a bit of a Hamlet-- actually, he's Hamlet in the extreme. It's unfortunate for him, but fortunate for the sake of the story.
It is a little long though, especially near the end. The plot is also rather average, but it serves its purpose. I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't have been able to make such a mundane plot so engaging. I really give this a 4.5, but I rounded up.......more
Starts off smoothly and comes to a skittering halt in the last third. This book is neither "romantic" nor "tragic" but creepy and mysterious, which IStarts off smoothly and comes to a skittering halt in the last third. This book is neither "romantic" nor "tragic" but creepy and mysterious, which I don't mind if the mystery is eventually explained. I guess I'm spoiling it, but when I got to the end I felt like I had been strung along for 200 pages. Yes, they went by fast. Very fast. But even good pacing won't make up for that disastrous ending. In the hands of a better writer, these thematic elements might have made for a very good story.
* Star-crossed (time traveling?) love: Robert Nathan's interesting conceit doesn't work because he doesn't explain it. I also didn't understand Eben's and Jennie's love. It's like, wow, I'm already an emo starving artist; maybe I'll make my life as miserable as possible by falling in love with a ghost/time traveler who shows up in the form of a little girl so I can complain about it to everyone! Oh, and I'm going to yell at my nosy landlady because she implied that I'm a pedophile when clearly, I'm not, because Jennie's actually a ghost/time traveler, remember?
* The artistic mind: I did not believe for a moment that Eben is an artist. The visuals in this story are fuzzy at best. Maybe he's a hack who strikes lucky, but that's the worst kind of artist. The worst.
* The idea that passionate people will continue down a doomed path despite knowing what tragedies await them: I like this idea a lot. Unfortunately, Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" came along about sixty years later and blew this one out of the water. Also unfortunately, Eben's continuous references to the present day provide too much premeditation for the (quite good) passages pertaining to this idea to work as well as they potentially could....more
When I reached the middle of this book, I thought, "I love this man so much." It isn't every book that I can read lying in my bed for hours on end witWhen I reached the middle of this book, I thought, "I love this man so much." It isn't every book that I can read lying in my bed for hours on end without falling asleep (actually, I did take a nap, but not because of this). It's funny, oh so funny, oh so punny...and I do love cheese. For the last chapter and a half, though, I wish Thomas Pynchon had devoted more time to the characters, namely Oedipa and Pierce, and less to Oedipa's summarized findings. Also, as a dense person and a denser reader, I am pretty sure most of this story went right over my head. Still, Pynchon's talent is sort of indisputable and yes I am cutting him a very tiny bit of slack because I am in Love (Inamorati Anonymous?) with him.... I'm even more antsy to read Gravity's Rainbow now, because that book is long. I'm guessing (from the length of his other books relative to Lot 49) that Pynchon is better when he takes up more space.
This book feels very California, which I liked. A good portion of it takes place in Berkeley, which I LOVED. He mentioned Telegraph, Shattuck, the Berkeley hills, and even Wheeler Hall. Seriously. I wonder if he wrote this before or after Cal rejected him? In any case, our math department has a rather severe history of mistakes (e.g. Ted Kaczynski)....more
Thank goodness Vonnegut stopped writing like this. Some great scenes but overall anemic and contrived. Paul Proteus is lame. The initial mentions of EThank goodness Vonnegut stopped writing like this. Some great scenes but overall anemic and contrived. Paul Proteus is lame. The initial mentions of EPICAC had me hoping that this story would go beyond man vs. machine (trite, although perhaps not at the time this was written) to machine loving man, but alas, Player Piano and EPICAC the beautiful short story have nothing in common....more
before: I REALLY WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! I've been dying to read it for YEARS actually...but alas, I keep procrastinating.
after: Terrible yet amazing. Ibefore: I REALLY WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! I've been dying to read it for YEARS actually...but alas, I keep procrastinating.
after: Terrible yet amazing. I can tell that he was "so fucked up" when he wrote this. (Longer review to come.)
the longer review (I couldn't wait so here it is): The first, oh, 2/3 of this book sort of turned me off. It was like beyond the Zero randomGermanCityName allthisrandomWorldWarTwoRocketSchwarzkommandogeratshit letsthrowinMaxwell'sDemonagain&integrals&physicsphiLittleSigma 00000 SEZ WHO-- sez what and I really thought my brain was being dissected into a million pieces and that I was traveling all over Europe just like Tyrone Slothrop. Sounds fun, right? Right, it was pretty fun, but it was mostly disgusting (even this day and age of 2 Girls 1 Cup and knowing about the scene in advance couldn't prepare me for that coprophagia scene, or that dingleberry scene, or the 50000000000 hardons of Slothrop & Co.). Masturbatory writing, indeed. And I thought, damn, Thomas Pynchon, you may very well be the love of my life but for God's sake man PLEASE CONTROL YOURSELF!
And then I hit page 550 (or somewhere around there). And then it all started to come together. And finally all that ridiculous mumbo-jumbo about being Sold, On, Suicide! and the evil octopus and everything else (there was way more, I just can't remember it right now) started to make sense. Well, not exactly. That's a bit of an exaggeration. I never really got the whole plot. I did, however, get the meaning (or what I perceived to be the meaning) around that time. It made me sigh in both relief (Pynchon didn't let me down after all!) and because it was so beautiful. Is. Last 60 pages are phenomenal.
I find it ironic that Pynchon almost called this book Mindless Pleasures, because so much of it is very unpleasant AND requires the presence of a mind...which reminds me: this is a very good mental exercise. I believe my memory's deterioration of the past couple of years has finally halted, perhaps even started to reverse. Anyway, that may have been his point, since he's into opposites (or the illusion of opposites).
The Pulitzer Prize people called this book "turgid, obscene, overwritten, and unreadable"-- perhaps not in that order. Gravity's Rainbow is terrible precisely because it IS turgid, obscene, and (sometimes) overwritten. But unreadable? Oh, hell no, it's certainly readable. It isn't spoonfed by any means, but I have to go with Pynchon on this: "Why should things be easy to understand?" I've read three of his books now and I still don't find him pretentious in the least. He writes the way he thinks, which happens to be brilliant and unusual, and he refuses to dumb the majority of his thoughts down for the rest of us. But ANYWAY. I digress and I apologize.
Onto what makes Gravity's Rainbow amazing: the ideas, of course, he's an ideas man and that really really gets me, and the writing. Oh, the writing! That prose is incredibly focused and focusing (perhaps what gives it its "pretentious" feel). Even though the idea of shit-eating naturally makes me want to puke and forget, and war bores me, and all the 700+ characters in this book are notoriously flat and the book goes on and On and ON, I sort of fell in love. I found myself caring, quite desperately, for Tyrone Slothrop, for Roger Mexico, Enzian, Gottfried, Weissmann/Blicero, even Katje, a bit (although I HATED all the women in this book! my God!). I found that while the story at times bored me, irritated me, or grossed the hell out of me, I couldn't stop thinking about it (I still haven't) and I was never bored or irritated or grossed out enough to put it down. I couldn't.
It is true: Thomas Pynchon can break my heart with a few words. Why couldn't he have broken it a little more? The Franz Pokler episode, for instance, made me want to cry. It made me squeal (as Rachel Owlglass and Benny Profane did), See, Thomas Pynchon CAN write just as beautifully about people as he does about physics and grammatical permutations! I probably would have cried (and enjoyed it) if Pynchon had written Gravity's Rainbow a bit more in that direction. And I wish he had. In many ways, this book is deeper, better-written, more beautiful, more brilliant, and quite simply more amazing than a lot of 5-star books, including V.-- but at the end of the day it is V. and the others that make me feel. I love wordplay, Pavlovian penises, mysterious Rockets, and the ghostly dichotomy of the elect and the preterite. I love so much about this book. I just like crying a little bit more....more
Lesson #1: Don't let your husband make more money than you. Lesson #2: If you can't decide between two (or more) men, they're probably both wrong for yLesson #1: Don't let your husband make more money than you. Lesson #2: If you can't decide between two (or more) men, they're probably both wrong for you. Especially if they're, oh, self-centered assholes.
I hated this book from page one. Halfway through I declared it to be one of the worst books I had ever read. I hated the characters, the characters' names, the character's jobs (sorry, I still can't distinguish between pool and snooker), the plot, and the prose, which is annoying and littered with a multitude of metaphors so bad they made me cringe. (Do you want snooker to seem classy? Then don't compare the position of the red balls to a whore's open legs!) Bad dialogue too. 90% of this book consists of petty arguments between petty people. Nothing remotely tragic or exciting happens, unless you count the contrived incorporation of 9/11.
The review on the back lauds Shriver's characters. OK, I suppose they could have passed for well-developed if the machinations weren't so obvious. I get it, Lawrence and Ramsey are EXACT OPPOSITES. (Although I was a bit attached to Lawrence for a while because he reminds me a bit of myself. But while Shriver pushes the equality of the two men, the story seems tipped in Ramsey's favor.) No matter what decision Irina would have made, she would still be the same insecure, boring, racist, self-hating American tool. Which reminds me..."the Asian"? "The small brown man"? "American cultural backwash"? And yes I normally try to ignore these sort of markers, but here, they appeared to be just as much the property of the characters as of the narrator.
But: there is one saving grace. I could have put down this book at any time. I wanted to, especially when it started making me feel homicidal (as in The Corrections), but frankly, I was hoping for some insight. And eventually there was, toward the ending. Most of this book is chick lit trying to pass itself off as literary fiction (and failing), but the ending is good. It isn't the cop-out I was expecting. And I suppose it did strike a chord within me-- or perhaps force me to think about parts of my own past which I have tried to tuck away. But I prefer other artistic manifestations of the same basic idea: Third Eye Blind's "The Background", or maybe even Frame and Match, the astronomer vs. snooker-player book Irina writes....more
I've never been able to sort out my feelings about this book. On one hand, I think James Joyce and his double-entendre sentences are brilliant. AlthouI've never been able to sort out my feelings about this book. On one hand, I think James Joyce and his double-entendre sentences are brilliant. Although the beginning is mystifying (at least it was for me, until we analyzed it in class), most of the scenes read fairly easily. With the exception of a few rough patches here and there, Joyce is hardly ever boring. Maybe it's a stream-of-consciousness thing-- it doesn't always make sense, but it keeps you awake. Also, when some authority figure is hammering into your head the uniqueness and greatness and ultimate literary significance of every single word in a book, it starts to settle in.
And yet I hate this book. I hate it because when I read it, I strongly identified with Stephen Dedalus. No, I don't mean identify. I mean...I felt I was him. I believed this book was about me, had I been born male and Irish and seventy years before. I was raised Roman Catholic (okay, so that's different from Irish Catholic-- but it's not that much of a stretch). I, too, won writing prizes in high school and thought I knew everything because I had read a lot and was headed for a major, world-famous university in the fall. I, too, had an epiphany that I would be an artist of some sort (but when I was eleven). We also have the same name (pretty much). And...there's more, but I would rather not mention it here. Let's just say you'll have to trust me on this one.
Normally I enjoy seeing myself in characters; I've felt similar, although much weaker, connections with Sydney Carton, Gene Forrester, and the narrator in Rebecca. But Stephen Dedalus is altogether too much, and all the more so because he's so cruel/indifferent/obsessive/pompous. I've disliked a lot of characters, but I've never hated any of them the way I hate Stephen. True, my identification with him has nothing to do with James Joyce's ideas or ability, and I don't think most people hate Stephen that much, but Portrait seemed to highlight the worst in his character-- and in mine as well. It was jarring, really, to discover my own faults through such an honest and unforgiving picture of "the artist as a young man."...more
A dazzling, brilliant novel. It is by and large considered a "children's book" (hence the well-deserved Newbery Medal), but the ingenuity, humor, andA dazzling, brilliant novel. It is by and large considered a "children's book" (hence the well-deserved Newbery Medal), but the ingenuity, humor, and portrayals of racial and socioeconomic diversity are notches above those of many "serious adult novels." I read it when I was eleven and will probably continue to rave about it for the rest of my life....more
I bought this book because it looked interesting and because it won the Pulitzer Prize. I've also seen Michael Chabon in person twice and he's great tI bought this book because it looked interesting and because it won the Pulitzer Prize. I've also seen Michael Chabon in person twice and he's great to look at and highly entertaining. But I'll never finish this book. I tried and tried and tried until page 50 or so and could not foresee it going in any interesting direction whatsoever. Too many words, too little plot. The first chapter was nice, but that's about it. If it's one of those books that doesn't pick up until page 400, like Gone with the Wind, please tell me, and I might give it another try (key word "might")....more