Other people have reviewed this book and said everything I would, but I'll write some notes anyway.
This is the literary equivalent of a drawing thatOther people have reviewed this book and said everything I would, but I'll write some notes anyway.
This is the literary equivalent of a drawing that makes great use of negative space. The characters do or say something simple, and Carver lets you fill up that space with all of the things that are implied or simply the things that you imagine. It's a really brilliant trick: he exploits the ubiquity of some human emotions (read into a statement, feel more than is stated, then become aware of that emotion as a human being specifically because you had to use it to read the story well) to illustrate them. It's an unnerving trick, and I think one of the reasons why people find his work great. I'm not describing the effect well, but if you read the stories, you'll know what I'm talking about. Short stories are the ideal medium for Carver - I can't imagine him writing anything else. Maybe poetry - but there isn't the same capacity for dialogue in poems. The people in his stories aren't the modern equivalent of noble savages, and they aren't really everyman characters either - they definitely aren't two-dimensional realist proletarian puppets. Tension is the primary tool he uses to relate things, people, and events - and that tension populates his sparse narratives with incredible force and meaning. Really gut-wrenching stuff.
The last story in the book is my favorite, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."
I'm not the world's biggest Doctorow fan to begin with, and though I really liked the premise of this book, I think he came off as a dorky fogey tryinI'm not the world's biggest Doctorow fan to begin with, and though I really liked the premise of this book, I think he came off as a dorky fogey trying to look cool to young people. The premise of totalitarianism and the visceral way that he addresses torture is pretty good stuff, though. If I were teaching a distopian fiction class to high schoolers, I might put this one on the syllabus with a big grain of salt. A bit histrionic... but a quick, easy read.
I had the pleasure of having the first hundred or so pages read aloud to me - I'm worried about struggling with the varied narration and huuuuge blockI had the pleasure of having the first hundred or so pages read aloud to me - I'm worried about struggling with the varied narration and huuuuge blocks of text on my own, but I've really enjoyed it so far.
A lot of this book is pretty emotionally challenging, but the way that Wallace slips into his characters and realizes them is something that I think only Shakespeare does as well....more
April 2007, first impression: So far, this book is witty, eye-opening and really fun. Also really well researched. He references Daniel C. Dennett inApril 2007, first impression: So far, this book is witty, eye-opening and really fun. Also really well researched. He references Daniel C. Dennett in the first five pages, so how could I not love it?
May 2007, upon completion: Update...
Ultimately, I decided to give this book three stars because I believe that it is a ballsy and well-executed attempt to take on an impossibly difficult problem (happiness - that's a biggie). For the most part, I admire Gilbert's methods, though they ALL become incredibly frustrating somewhere around page 200. The book is witty, incredibly well researched, and Gilbert is (mostly) unwilling to extrapolate the massive amounts of data he compiles into proscriptive solutions for finding happiness.
Fortunately, these make the book:
* pretty easy to follow * informative and enlightening (if you're not already familiar with most of the research - some of the psychological effects he outlines are well-known to the point of being cliché, but many are either head-scratchers or jaw-droppers on their own merits or are interpreted here in interesting ways which bolster his mostly critical (rather than constructive) thesis) * very NOT another preachy or rosy-tinted self-help franchise (yet).
* the tone ultimately makes the book repetitive and tiresome (much like being in the room with an otherwise intelligent person who laughs a little too much at their own jokes) * the research often obfuscates rather than elucidates already fuzzy points (again, he makes his criticisms clear, but sometimes it's unclear what he is actually trying to *say* by pointing them out) * for most of the book it seems as though he's really verging on some great ideas, but doesn't want to stick his neck out for them, which leaves the reader exhausted trying to generate their own implications and solutions for the problems he identifies...