This novel twins the marriage plot with the rise and fall of a self-made paint magnate. Howell's was doing something ahead of his time, investigatingThis novel twins the marriage plot with the rise and fall of a self-made paint magnate. Howell's was doing something ahead of his time, investigating and celebrating the American businessman. The story runs very dry at points. Howells is much better writing about Silas than the thin love triangle, with its extremely obvious complications, between Irene, Tom and Penelope.
I loved the opening pages. An interviewer comes to profile Silas, and it's a great and modern-feeling trick for Howell's to employ. He sets up so much narrative work through this interview. I'm reading Martin Amis' Money right now and he employs a similar device, albeit briefly.
Howell's has the very frustrating habit of adding entire sentences modifying "he said" or "she said." He often equates something Lapham's wife, Persis, says to something that all women say or feel, and the generalization undercuts the very vivid and real characters he's worked so hard to render.
This was on E.L. Doctorow's list of books for every writer to read. I was attracted by the fact that Doctorow said Howell's understood the business mind. I'd like to understand the business mind: if only to be abhorred by it (though I'd like to make sounder investments than my chugging mutual fund).
It's not a must read, but Silas Lapham has its moments....more
Desolate and precisely told. Works like a fairy tale in that nothing feels out of place. Michael Haneke movie vibes. Story is about a lady writer whoDesolate and precisely told. Works like a fairy tale in that nothing feels out of place. Michael Haneke movie vibes. Story is about a lady writer who comes to deliver a lecture in a tiny tiny town in northern Sweden, and ends up living with a man who gives her lodging for the night, Hadar, in the last stages of cancer. Nearby lives Hadar’s brother, also dying but of heart disease. Therein lies the Lindgren, everyone is suffering.
The recipe, it seems, for a Lindgren novel is 1) Two ill men. 2) One nurturing woman. 3) Food as salvation. That was the way in Hash, one of my Top Ten of All Time, only here, it’s less darkly comic. Still some funny moments, though, involving food and the body as food. The “sweetness” of the title. I won’t give anything away here, only that it’s a little creepy.
Lindgren is simply a genius for dialogue, effortlessly shifting between a summary of what the characters said, and actual quoted conversation. For a novella-length work, it still pays off big time in the end. I had but one gripe: the woman’s new work is about St. Christopher, and I wanted it to tie in more or at least reveal something interesting about the Saint. This could be a fourth Lindgren element, to show a character in the act of writing. Can’t wait to read more Torgny, for reals. What a writer....more
Philip Lopate is one of my favorite essayists. I am always taken aback by his unvarnished honesty and hilarious self-deprecation. As soon as he arrivePhilip Lopate is one of my favorite essayists. I am always taken aback by his unvarnished honesty and hilarious self-deprecation. As soon as he arrives at a beautiful thought, he will undercut it immediately. In his first essay, "The Moody Traveler," while looking at an Italian villa on his way to a lookout point, he questions, "Perhaps we only envy that which we look at superficially; and a deeper look would take care of our urge for possession? Nah. In any case, I kept walking."
That above quote is a key to this book. Lopate questions his own motives and desires. Sometimes this feels formulaic. "A [blank] critic might say, with reason..." appeared with some regularity towards the end of essays. By giving voice to his critics, Lopate both raises another side and closes off any argument. My favorite essays were when Lopate is grappling with something or someone bigger than himself. For example, his brilliant portrait of Donald Barthelme and his "Memories of Greenwich Village," a piece of autobiography that feels freewheeling but arrives at a structure through a sideways approach to two other writers, Leonard Michales and Anatole Broyard. It seems that, at least in this work, Lopate wrote the best when writing about other writers. While "The Invisible Woman" was not about a writer, but rather a postmodern feminist artist, it too is strong for the same reasons: Lopate reflects himself through another person.
"The Story of My Father," while strong, could have been honed a little more. I wished that Lopate presented his father in a more complicated light. The person who emerges is the biggest curmudgeon you've ever met. Though I did find it interesting that Lopate's father considered himself a failed writer.
The inward pieces, "Confessions of a Shusher" (just the title alone gives me the heebies), the titular essay and "Delivering Lily," a birth story, feel oddly like a comedian who is running out of steam...i.e. "And here's another thing about my back."
3.5...you'd think the Internet rating systems were capable of half stars, too, but we're not there yet. ...more
Heartbreaking and amazing. You can understand why Joan Didion gave it a blurb. The language is sparse and cutting. The honest is total. Though this boHeartbreaking and amazing. You can understand why Joan Didion gave it a blurb. The language is sparse and cutting. The honest is total. Though this book is very very sad (it made me cry, and I don't cry easily), it's very readable. First there's the wave itself, followed by the aftermath. Then you get nervous about Sonali's state of being. She mourns her children through detail: scribbles on couches or a soccer ball, still scuffed. I almost forgot her parents died in the event—the writer seems to delay talking about them, and when she does, they are given short accounts. Finally, she ends with an heart-crushing yet beautiful glimpse of the love she had for her husband. They seemed like a hard-working if privileged family. What a testament to their lives....more