Edward St. Aubyn at his worst, in which his obsessions with self and money masquerade as obsessions with a beautiful vampiric woman, a walking clicheEdward St. Aubyn at his worst, in which his obsessions with self and money masquerade as obsessions with a beautiful vampiric woman, a walking cliche who is completely overshadowed by the evil ex-wife, the only interesting character in this tedious novel. The metafictional dressing St. Aubyn tosses on doesn't help....more
Charming and full of messy life, but I have a hard time with any author who is so charmed by her lead character that she allows the character to tellCharming and full of messy life, but I have a hard time with any author who is so charmed by her lead character that she allows the character to tell us (repeatedly) how beautiful they are (several times) and what their (high) IQ is without a trace of authorial irony. This makes me think I'm dealing not only with an unreliable narrator, which all narrators are to some degree, but an unreliable author. ...more
If Franzen is, as Jason Pettus https://www.goodreads.com/jasonpettus says, the Sinclair Lewis of our day... " you can strongly argue that (Lewis) wasIf Franzen is, as Jason Pettus https://www.goodreads.com/jasonpettus says, the Sinclair Lewis of our day... " you can strongly argue that (Lewis) was the Jonathan Franzen of his times, a critically adored author (the first American writer in history to win the Nobel Prize, for example) who nonetheless heavily employed the pop culture and slang of his day in order to create devastating indictments against the consumerism, celebrity worship and herd mentality surrounding him, eaten up in the millions by the very people most guilty of the behavior, because they're able to recognize in these indictments every single person they know besides themselves" then the question about PURITY is whether it's Franzen's ELMER GANTRY or his DODSWORTH.
Both Franzen and Lewis published a brilliant early novel (THE CORRECTIONS, BABBIT) that was tinged with just the right amount of surrealism, and depended for much of its impact on the ability of the authors to show us their male characters both through their own inner narratives and the skeptical eye of their spouses. These novels were followed by bigger and less brilliant novels, in which the both authors gradually hardened their perspective until it completely supported the patriarchal point of view. This by no coincidence was accompanied the increase in ranting, the decrease in comedy, and a general artery-hardening that sadly afflicted Lewis's DODSWORTH. But before DODSWORTH came ELMER GANTRY, another brilliant novel and a moving and disturbing portrait of the the transformation of a pleasure-loving young man into a ruthless demagogue. Much like the transformation in PURITY of young romantic Andreas Wolf into a murderous sex-addicted cult leader. Though not as human or perversely appealing as Elmer Gantry, Andreas provides the life force for PURITY. Unfortunately, PURITY spends many of its pages on its equivalent to Sam Dodsworth, Tom Aberant, whose voice gradually blends with the author's in making the male case in a bad marriages to the unfortunate reader, who might be unpleasantly surprised to find themselves in the role of divorce-court judge. So though PURITY is far more irritating and less wonderful than ELMER GANTRY, it hasn't quite been taken over, as DODSWORTH was, by the oblivious perspective of a late-middle-aged man who is used to getting his own way and is never going to let us hear the end of it when he doesn't.
One (at least this one) can only hope that Franzen doesn't let the sex-war defeats and disappointments of his personal life seep into his fiction the way Lewis did. Both writers are two of my great favorites, and while there's no hope for Lewis now, I can still look forward to the possibility of another amusing, moving, and wonderful Franzen novel....more
One of my least favorite T.C. Boyle novels, in which the milquetoast hero cures his ulcer and redeems his manhood by catching his wife having her wombOne of my least favorite T.C. Boyle novels, in which the milquetoast hero cures his ulcer and redeems his manhood by catching his wife having her womb manipulated in broad pastoral daylight by a doctor of movement therapy while a prominent advocate of vegetarianism looks on, masturbating. The neanderthal is unleashed in our hero, who grabs a stick shaped like a baseball bat from the leafy ground and proceeds to beat both his rivals bloody. Once he manages, brandishing said stick, to bring fear to his wife's eyes his marriage is saved and he manages to live a long and happy married life, engendering three daughters who "grew up to be leggy and lean, and they ate whatever they liked, within reason. Will was devoted to them". You just have to hope his wife doesn't let him anywhere near these leggy girls when he's brandishing his stick.
There's plenty of wild plot in this novel, including a young con man, conned himself, who is arrested at a luncheon in the upscale sanitarium run by Dr. Kellog. The con man escapes and ends up owning a flat in Paris, an estate in Westchester, and a house in Zurich by marketing a 60 proof women's tonic. Plus there's an epic battle between Dr. Kellog, his alcoholic adopted son, a sickly tame wolf, and a female chimpanzee in which the vegetarian and bicycle-toned Dr. Kellog claims victory by drowning his son in a batch of nut butter.
T.C. could be considered one of the founders of hysterical realism, the genre that James Wood defines when he says:
"The big contemporary novel is a perpetual-motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity. It seems to want to abolish stillness, as if ashamed of silence–as it were, a criminal running endless charity marathons. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page, as these novels continually flourish their glamorous congestion. Inseparable from this culture of permanent storytelling is the pursuit of vitality at all costs. Indeed, vitality is storytelling, as far as these books are concerned."
This almost perfectly describes THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE, and many other T.C. novels as well. In the best of his novels, DROP CITY and SAN MIGUEL, T.C. restrains his his hysterical tendencies, and sticks with great benefit to a more classic plot. But who can really fault him, not me. Others of my favorites, like Margaret Atwood, have over larded fantastical plots into their books, presumably because it is a crowd pleaser. You only have to read a few chapters into any of George R.R. Martin's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series to know that. It's just not my style, I prefer the classic plotters like St. Aubyn who give their main characters a chance to live and breathe. And when T.C. sticks to the classic style as he does in SAN MIGUEL, he's the best writer around....more
The writing, especially in the first sections of this collection, verges on the terrible and makes me wonder if there are any editors left who do anyThe writing, especially in the first sections of this collection, verges on the terrible and makes me wonder if there are any editors left who do any actual editing. But Emily goes a long way towards redeeming herself in my eyes by struggling to honestly depict her life as a young female internet star in New York without dressing it up in glamorous accessories or making everyone beautiful, brilliant, and on the verge of glory and fame. I plan on reading her upcoming novel, FRIENDSHIP, and hope that her writing has improved or that she's found an editor who will do a better job....more
Ms. D'Erasmo has great powers of expression but unfortunately what she has to express is at the level of a glossy ad for Guess Jeans, i.e. the fabulouMs. D'Erasmo has great powers of expression but unfortunately what she has to express is at the level of a glossy ad for Guess Jeans, i.e. the fabulousness of the life of a C level celebrity and the glories of rock and roll....more
I don't think I'm giving away anything when I say that this novel has the interesting premise that total internet visibility and connectivity = totaliI don't think I'm giving away anything when I say that this novel has the interesting premise that total internet visibility and connectivity = totalitarianism, a premise I more or less agree with. Which predisposes me to like THE CIRCLE. Alas, the premise, like the Marianas trench shark who shows up near the end of the novel, devours all the usual nourishment fiction provides, leaving the ashy residue of a predictable plot (I had figured out the big reveal about a quarter of the way into the book), characters so two-dimensional that even the main character is more like an avatar than an actual person, and language drained of sensory detail. But it gets the glossy unrelentingly demanding details of Silicon Valley corporate culture right.
The most fun I had was trying to figure out which actual Silicon Valley tycoons were represented by the Three Wise Men who run The Circle. Was Larry Ellison the model for villainous Tom Stenton? Is mysterious Ty a combination of Sergey Brin and Bill Joy? Is slogan-spouting good guy Eamon Bailey a stand-in for Eric Schmidt? I'll never know unless Dave Eggers breaks the novelist's code of "all my characters are entirely fictional" and tells.
Probably any novel whose main concern is our electronic culture is bound to be thinned out by its topic (see SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY for example), but because I mostly agree with THE CIRCLE's gloomy vision of people whose thinking abilities are destroyed by the combination of electronic distraction and corporate power, I wish it had done a better job of creating a world dense enough for me to either be surprised by it or care about it, as Jonathan Lethem managed to do in CHRONIC CITY, his novel about internet culture run amok. ...more
These stories have crossed the line from almost too perfect to too perfect. They're so smoothly written they slide right through my mind without stickThese stories have crossed the line from almost too perfect to too perfect. They're so smoothly written they slide right through my mind without sticking. The most memorable of the lot is "To Reach Japan", the story of a woman writer who is unfaithful to her husband on a train. This is almost the same story as Mary McCarthy's infamous story "The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt." Though Ms. McCarthy's story is not as polished, its tale of reckless female drunken wantonness is far more shockingly modern even though it was written some 70 years before "To Reach Japan". ...more
Overladen with literary language and characters who sprang from ideas the author had about certain kinds of people rather than anything resembling reaOverladen with literary language and characters who sprang from ideas the author had about certain kinds of people rather than anything resembling real people....more
A wild and delightful account of the life of a young Japanese man who has withdrawn from society and become a dreaded hikikomori. No fancy metaphors,A wild and delightful account of the life of a young Japanese man who has withdrawn from society and become a dreaded hikikomori. No fancy metaphors, no poetic language, nothing but the heartbreakingly real description of the life of someone who can't bear modern life. Like William Burroughs writing without his layers of obfuscation. Funny, tender, honest, wonderful....more
The first section of the book, in which the parents of its protagonist work up to bank robbery, captures some of the rootless isolation that accompaniThe first section of the book, in which the parents of its protagonist work up to bank robbery, captures some of the rootless isolation that accompanies cultural breakdown, and the second section contains some of the beauty of the Canadian prairie. But the heavy-handed foreshadowing that creates all of the novel's suspense, the complete passiveness of its protagonist combined with the shallowness of all its other characters, described in prose that's larded with unoriginal attempts at moralistic aphorisms, made this a slow and unsatisfactory read....more
Almost a caricature of the male style, full of clipped dialogue and supposedly telling detail, hinting at unmentioned depths. But I'm left with the seAlmost a caricature of the male style, full of clipped dialogue and supposedly telling detail, hinting at unmentioned depths. But I'm left with the sense that what you see is what you get, and that there's not much there under the shallow surface....more