An intermittently brilliant slog through Peruvian culture and politics in the late 40s and 50s. The back three quarters struggled to support the formaAn intermittently brilliant slog through Peruvian culture and politics in the late 40s and 50s. The back three quarters struggled to support the formal experimentalism of the first. I found myself so distracted trying to figure out why Vargas Llosa switched the style that I lost occasionally lost track of the thug and bureacrat plotline (one of the three or four interconnected narratives running throughout). ...more
Total. Soap. Opera. I don't mean that as an insult. I love Faulkner (as does Garth Risk Hallberg, by the number of times he name drops the man).
HallbTotal. Soap. Opera. I don't mean that as an insult. I love Faulkner (as does Garth Risk Hallberg, by the number of times he name drops the man).
Hallberg's 70's era "Gossip Girl"-ish shenanigans of the terrible rich people on the Upper East Side are good solid, silly (intentional? unintentional?) Gothic melodrama. By comparison, the sections about the anarchist punk rockers downtown are stodgy, serious and absolutely zero fun, which kind of defeats the point of having at least half of the book about punk rockers.
I wasn't around in 1977 in New York (I was a baby in Virginia), nor was the author (he was born a few years later). I can't say much about the historical accuracy, but there are times when this book feels less like how things actually were than how someone at a distance imagines things should have been.Or to put another way, every character in this book is a little too progressive/informed/cool to be true. Of course, that also may come from the fact that all of their individual point of view chapters speak in the same humorless, sometimes pedantic, authenticity-obsessed, self conscious narrative voice. Teenagers--especially scene-obsessed teenagers--are often humorless, pedantic, authenticity obsessed and self-conscious, which makes them unintentionally hilarious. The book, likewise, is often so serious that it's funny and yet not nearly funny enough as it ought to be.
I wasn't bored, though the length, toward the end, started to take its toll on me. Eyes started to glaze about halfway through the 77 blackout, which was supposed to be the climax (after nearly 800 pages). Also, it's sort of unnecessary to read twelve pages of an accomplished writer trying to write like a bad teenage writer in a full recreation of a Xeroxed fictional fanzine. (Publishers: "The Goldfinch" was also too long. Let's avoid using it as a new industry standard for literary novels. I mean, from an ecological perspective alone, that's a lot of trees).
At the end: Preposterously named Park Avenue WASPS with shadowy corporations behind them? Splinter sects of rock and rollers with ambiguous terrorist ambitions? Pot-smoking journalists obsessed with an Italian family with a centuries-long tradition of making fireworks? A giant organ-playing drag queen named Venus De Nylon? A ginger-topped Jewish kid from Long Island obsessed with David Bowie and the Gideon's Bible? That sounds like it should be amazing? Why is it not more fun? Why, in fact, does it seem so focused on scolding me for trying to have a good time?
It's probably not entirely possible for met to objective about this book. Elvis Costello is among my all-time favorite musicians, not the least of whiIt's probably not entirely possible for met to objective about this book. Elvis Costello is among my all-time favorite musicians, not the least of which because he is a marvelous wordsmith. Also, this book deals with topics personally interesting to me (Alisons, gaps between your front teeth, falling in love with record store, falling in love at record stores, hanging out with Joe Strummer, hanging out with Bob Dylan, et.al). This is maybe the best written rock and roll memoir I've ever read, even if it does (like all rock and roll memoirs) go a little long, and a smidge self-indulgent toward the end. ...more
**spoiler alert** People love this book and that's fine, no arguments. To me it felt like JT LeRoy meets Denis Cooper meets Donna Tartt's glamously di**spoiler alert** People love this book and that's fine, no arguments. To me it felt like JT LeRoy meets Denis Cooper meets Donna Tartt's glamously dissolute entitled geniuses in a magical version of Manhattan where everyone is so rich, successful, kind, open-minded, beautiful and deserving of love that they can live in a delicious, well-decorated upper class world where racism, bigotry, politics, money and failure will never shatter their knowing smiles and sincere concern for Jude, their perfect victim of a friend.
For victim Jude is, of such an epic catalogue of abuse it seems hard to believe he survived it at all, let alone survived it with an Ivy League-ready IQ, a real genius at pure math, a natural gift in the kitchen ,an operatic tenor, a great a talent for music, an easy ability at law and an effortless, intutitive kindness. This superhuman combination of skills and attributes so endear him to every rich person in the Tri-State area that they literally give him everything--their time, their inexaustible attention, their money, their name, their love--despite his absence of a backstory. What Jude suffers in his past is horrifying, but given what people actually know about him in the book, he could just as easily be an exceedingly lucky grifter with a pretty face.
Hanya Yanagihara is a good writer, at times even a pretty great one, but this novel is in desperate need of an editor (there's a great 250 novel buried between sixty eight retreads of the same soft-spoken "Are you all right?"/ "Yes, I'm in pain, but I'll survive. The generous rich people are coming to dinner" / "You must see a doctor."/ "I will, my love and how odd it is that we are now generous rich people./ "Indeed, how odd. Oh! But you're in pain!"rinse, repeat). It's also in desperate need of context, of the messy weirdness of actual real people. Getting the hard brutal truth about abuse and victimhood is one thing, but if I'm going to give a shit about characters for nearly 700 pages, they need to manifest more than just a single emotion, they need to live in a world, that even if wholly imaginary, shows some of the complexity of the one we actually live in. The world of "A Little Life" seems to posit that a person is either a monster or a mensch, with none of the troubling grey area in between (and it's worth noting that JB, the only character in the novel, that is allowed to fuck up like a normal person is the only character who seems like a real human being). Ugh.