The main story between two cellmates, one gay, the other straight, how their relationship evolves is engrossing. And...moreA mix of Auster, Gaddis, and DFW--
The main story between two cellmates, one gay, the other straight, how their relationship evolves is engrossing. And many of the films Molina, the gay character, tells his cellmate are also interesting, though it takes some getting used to as it keeps breaking up the narrative in the beginning. I do, however, have reservations about the footnotes, which consist of dry/dull (though rather clear) academic disquisition on homosexuality. Though they do help illuminate—albeit only by a little bit—what happens to the two characters, they were definitely hard to read, and I question their usefulness/purpose in the overall narrative. They weren't funny like DFW's footnotes or directly relevant or present a meta story like in Danielewski's House of Leaves, and so even though they might have presented some theoretical underpinnings of the psychology behind the characters, I wonder if Puig couldn't have done it differently, made it less of a painful slog of a read.
Having said that, though, the last narrative move—the dialogue within Valentin and the switch of roles—was quite interesting and connects the story to the footnotes in some interesting ways (the footnotes talk about gender roles and societal norms, and here at the end of the story, we see a reversal of roles).
Hardly. Engrossing? Well, yes, it did pull me through 432 pages of dense and complicated Roman history, 98% of which is told in a narrat...moreA masterpiece?
Hardly. Engrossing? Well, yes, it did pull me through 432 pages of dense and complicated Roman history, 98% of which is told in a narrative instead of rendered in scene. Even the rare scenes of dialogue are stripped of live actions of the characters and I was more than a little disappointed in not being able to get to know the historical characters in flesh, as it were.
Another weakness was that there really is no overarching narrative arc. It's mostly Claudius recording the vile, messed-up, dysfunctional family members' wicked acts and himself not doing much. Granted, it purports itself to be an autobiography, and it should be judged according to what it claims to do, but toward the end I was growing weary of so many characters coming in and getting killed—though there are surely "mad but interesting" anecdotes, like Claudius's mother starving her daughter to death to punish herself—and I would've appreciated more direction and story arc.
Overall, I did learn some ancient Roman history and I was entertained, so it was a good read, but good in the way potato chips are good—you end up eating too much and get sick of them. (less)
I didn't take away much from this, probably because I've read so many books on craft, but I did find some interesting things:
- the distinction he makes between "tension/anticipation" and "conflict/uncertainty" -the dichotomous stereotype that combines two contradictory characteristics in a character -how literary characters' motivation isn't all clear precisely because they're conflicted -his Jamesian insistence that a truly artistic short story ought to have unity where every part contributes to every other part and also to the whole (or as he quotes James: "A novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like any other organism, and in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, that in each of the parts there is something of each of the other parts")
Other than that, his treatment of point of view and structure was sketchy and abstract without concrete examples and his contemptuous and ranting belittlement of new journalism and experimental fiction kind of funny.
Overall, a few good insights, but that's about it. (less)
Influencer provides a lot more comprehensive framework to make change possible, but this book does have some insights that Influencer and...morePretty good--
Influencer provides a lot more comprehensive framework to make change possible, but this book does have some insights that Influencer and Switch lack, such as the neurological explanation of habits, the simple habit loop model (cue, routine, reward), two other important factors in changing habits (craving and belief), the concept of organizations as bundles of institutional habits, and the three necessary elements of when societal changes occur.
The three elements are: 1) a movement begins because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances; 2) it grows because of the habits of a community and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together; and 3) it endures because a movement's leaders give new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership (p.217).
Some facts were interesting, too. How weak ties (acquaintances) are a powerful connecting force, how accidents and crises tend to make organizational changes easier, how a sense of control helps preserve one's willpower.
But the book fails to show exactly how to make changes in habits, and so it gets the three stars.
Combined with Influencer, Switch, and Change Everything, this will deepen your understanding of how change is made. Overall, recommended.(less)
I was super disappointed by the novel's first 50 pages or so. It wasn't funny, engrossing, or interesting, an...moreDon't be deceived by the first 50 pages--
I was super disappointed by the novel's first 50 pages or so. It wasn't funny, engrossing, or interesting, and so I wasn't sure if I wanted to read on, but when it hit the halfway point, things got better and the story sucked me in. The way Wilcox weaves together various character threads in the second half of the book is really masterful, reminding me of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and P.G. Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters.
Though I simply hated Mr. Pickens (the protagonist), I had to take my hats off to Wilcox for excellent details that illuminate character and how he brings it all together at the end.