Just finished and said aloud "oh my god they texted freaking hearts to each other." I could crap upon this novel's head from a great height but I shou...moreJust finished and said aloud "oh my god they texted freaking hearts to each other." I could crap upon this novel's head from a great height but I should refrain and simply say it's not my thing. It's the sort of novel that makes me avoid contemporary literary fiction, distrust bloggers and anyone who's tweeted more than 10K times, and hate this sort of superficial NYC only populated by rich or ambitious white folk (in retrospect and in comparison, Netherland seems like enlightened genius). A few times, the narrator dispels notions about NYC, like people in the city don't sit around on Sunday and eat bagels and read the New York Times, or go to Broadway musicals -- but they also don't all live and think like this. "Sex and the City," "Girls," and this novel describe the lives of a subset of ambitious, young, self-obsessed bloggers (doesn't feel right to call them "writers") who NEVER READ, never seem to think or talk about art or literature, too concerned about fulfilling their ambition and one day receiving their birthright: a beautiful home upstate like Sally's. I liked the generational connection between the older Sally and Amy/Bev -- there was enough in their mutual desire for one another's lives to fill a fine novel. But once they started conspiring to sell Bev's child to Sally, which I saw coming a few chapters ahead, I groaned. Some nice moments seemed to clearly suggest that the author was aware of the general heinousness of the characters and novel in general, like when Amy says the internet made her so miserable Sam wouldn't understand -- Sam who grew up so poor meals were often missed, Sam whose sister died of leukemia. It felt simultaneously satirical and sincere throughout, as though the author satirized a sort of NYC life she found "stupid" (the default adjective -- at one point used to describe a deer's eyes) and then realized she was writing a sort of semi-autobiographical novel and should take pity on herself. When Sally asks Amy and Bev if they believe in God because it seems like they were fated to appear in her life, I immediately thought, wait a sec, since the author is the one who brought (FORCED, more so) these characters together, she's equating herself with God! I did like some talk of spirituality, something lacking in other novels I've read recently by women involving NYC writer types, but it was so superficial, that is, God is akin to a benevolent yoga instructor (the author's page on here says she's a certified yoga instructor). Consciousness is compared to open tabs on a browser. All of which is fine when it's embedded in exposition pertaining to Amy, say, sincerely satirizing her thoughts. But often this sort of jokey superficial reduction appears in the narration when it's not yet fused with a character, for example the beginning of chapter 21 when a Manhattan dive bar is described as filled with patrons so poor and unattractive it could be "an elaborate re-creation" of a bar in Philadelphia, or at least another borough. That sort of description emerges from the narrative voice. As a resident of Philadelphia, well, ha ha ha (on behalf of Benjamin Franklin, Allen Iverson, and every physically and otherwise alluring human who's ever lived in this town, I slowly extend my middle finger in the direction of the author pic on the back flap), way to inaccurately rip a city for the sake of a lame joke. Zero LOLs for me throughout despite snark and attempted amusement on every page. Also, it's insane that Bev went to Oberlin (revealed four-fifths through) -- totally unbelievable. Oberlin socializes its students to such a degree that graduates often immediately recognize each other -- this has happened to me more than once in recent years. (Reading Alison Bechdel, for example, I knew she went to Oberlin before frames in her first book depicted Wilder Bowl.) There's no way Bev experienced that sort of education, ate at co-ops, took experimental college (EXCO) classes like Contact Improv or Female Body Image, did weird winter term projects like depriving herself of sleep for a month, drank too many dollars worth of quarter beers at the 'Sco, lazed in Wilder Bowl, fondled herself discretely as she read in a womb chair in Mudd Library, grew her leg hair out, had sex in the arb, or took a Dante seminar, which probably would've required her to major in Italian -- they wouldn't offer Dante in the English Lit department. Compared to this, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and Dept. of Speculation -- two other recent novels set in NYC involving young or youngish female writers (here's a great review that discusses all of them) -- are prize worthy. If you're looking for a novel about female friendship among young artsy types, Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? is funny and filled with ideas and, most importantly, audacity. This is filled with flat characters, ughful insights into -- at best -- an exasperating sort of entitlement, and its structure is straightforward, without variation in language, approach, or texture. Anyway, I apologize. I'll be heading back to older novels (finishing Proust in September) and translated Euro Lit soon. My brief experiment in exploring the hardcovers at the local library is coming to a close.(less)
Great baby book, words and text -- read it aloud just now and really got into it, thinking it reminded me of a recording of a poem I used to play for...moreGreat baby book, words and text -- read it aloud just now and really got into it, thinking it reminded me of a recording of a poem I used to play for students (http://m.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/we-r...) -- and lo the author of book and poem are one. Interesting ambiguous subtext about being true to your nature, ending with an agitated image (a snapping tail). (less)
It's not every day you watch a beheading online and then about an hour later read about a body bomb on a bridge. Four stars for the affecting contempo...moreIt's not every day you watch a beheading online and then about an hour later read about a body bomb on a bridge. Four stars for the affecting contemporaneity, for visceral scenes of engagement when the prose flexes in time with the action and traces the contours (<-- the novel's keyword) of a warped reality, but stretches fell off for me when the masculine lyricism seemed contrived or reaching for significance beyond its grasp. Sometimes felt like extra phrases toward the end of sentences fuzzed out my attention. A few semi-exciting breakout passages where the narrator unleashes his language and he tells everyone to eff off, another passage where he's drowning drunk in a river back home, approached by a band of dream horses. Almost theatrically cast -- just a few characters, Sterling is particularly well-characterized and complicated but addled by memories of movies, particularly "The Hurt Locker." In general, an intermittently powerful novel -- my reading traced the contours of total immersion and incomplete engagement thanks to the approach. The story itself is heartbreaking for all and the structure makes sense to convey the disorientation/disjointedness of the war but sometimes felt like it was serving itself instead of the story. Again, the Foley/ISIS video jarred me and I won't be able to separate it from this novel, which for the most part feels unlike fiction (another reason to round up from 3.5 stars) -- and it momentarily warped my perception: walking home yesterday, reading as I walked, I saw someone at a gas station aim the semi-automatic nozzle rifle at his car, as though I'd been rotated stateside along with the narrator. Like all war novels and movies, the point is loud/clear: let's hope this one is the last.(less)
Officially available today: a good-natured, cartoonish entertainment inspired by the nascent world within the world of the World Wide Web, the involut...moreOfficially available today: a good-natured, cartoonish entertainment inspired by the nascent world within the world of the World Wide Web, the involutions and perversions of Charlie Kaufmann and Todd Solondz, the accessible accelerated early stories of George Saunders, maybe a bit of Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle, a progressive liberal arts college education in the '90s, and the psychic charge of implausibly positive and horrifically negative events experienced in New York in 2000 and 2001. I finished the first draft in 2005 and worked on it intermittently over the years. It's not very much like most of the stuff I tend to read (it's neither dense nor written by a dead Austrian) but it's been great to see it come together as a final product in print -- now available from Atticus Books and Amazon -- an ebook edition will be available one day.
A numbered meditation on longing, love, obsession, connection at once spiritual, associative, interpersonal, and physical. Superficially about a color...moreA numbered meditation on longing, love, obsession, connection at once spiritual, associative, interpersonal, and physical. Superficially about a color. Wondered what she would've written about "Blue Is the Warmest Color," but then again she's given up on the cinema. The sort of sensibility that prefers "cinema" to film or movie or, certainly, flick. Sexually explicit at regular intervals to keep you on your toes among the obligatory Goethe and Wittgenstein quotation. Acknowledges and dismisses Gass's On Being Blue, which I enjoyed more since his always alliterative language is flat-out fun. This one's borderline humorless. Few lightning bolts of insight (great Emerson quotation: "From the mountain you see the mountain"). Expected more personal revelation -- certainly more than just her past relationship with some dude she misses. Was she never a kid who opened her eyes underwater? No mention of the veins on the legs of grandparents or family dogs going blind. The product of a privileged aesthete, I thought toward the end. But being a privileged aesthete myself I admired the restraint and assemblage (hey Joseph Cornell), but did so coolly, like the color crossed with thin clouds. Read under a clear morning mid-August sky, feet upon a blue outdoor rug of a sort of woven plastic, the cinderblocks enclosing our backyard garden's greens and yellows painted a glossy royal blue. The sort of book that makes you want to write something like it, even if I only sort of liked this. I wonder if she loves the blue people of Avatar.(less)
There's a tricky point of view thing in this in which early on the husband is addressed as "you" and then, when husband and wife experience marital di...moreThere's a tricky point of view thing in this in which early on the husband is addressed as "you" and then, when husband and wife experience marital difficulties, the intimacy of that direct address is lost (he's called "he") until the very end, midway through the final page (it's not really a spoiler), when the husband is addressed as "you" again. And that's exactly the sort of thing that maybe kept me from giving this four stars -- although it superficially presents a "real" reality it does so through a scrim of contemporary "reality hunger" literary technique, replete with quotation and Rilke this time instead of the ubiquitous Bruno Schulz. The climactic scene is presented too as though she's workshopping a student story, questioning the heavy rain, suggesting something be added "a beat" before the action continues. And on the last page it snows without self-consciousness. Which I get, but which also doesn't exactly turn me on -- or maybe it's the same old story (and dramatic structure) filtered through the new anti-story "technology of heartbreak" convention as in Lorrie Moore's story about her baby's cancer ("People Like That Are The Only People Here") or Rick Moody's story "Demonology" about his sister's death or more recently Ben Lerner, Sheila Heti, Knausgaard, even Tao Lin and other literary autobiographical enthusiasts. It's 177 pages I read in a few hours thanks to short chapters and little jags no longer than two tweets. At times I wanted to compare it to Knausgaard's domestic artistic reality drama but I think it comes down to the lack of pressure Knausgaard puts on the details? In this, everything signifies or stresses, has tension to it, cleverness, poignancy. Knausgaard not so much -- he's about trees and sun and patterns, and comparatively, for a certified Art Monster (in Book Two) he comes off as enlightened, as someone naturally aware of the ambiguity of nature? In this, the narrator often comes off like a neurotic New York navel-gazing negatron, superficially and selfishly questing for answers from Buddhism, art, yoga, therapy, meds. It's of course wrong to treat this as "110%" autobiography, to dissolve the border between author and narrator, but, maybe other than the initial motherhood pages, the self-concern seemed self-enclosed in this, whereas Knausgaard's involutions somehow open up and let me in? Anyway, a very short, fast, airily formatted book available for $22.95 in hardcover from a publisher based in one of the most expensive areas of one of the most expensive cities in the world. Got it from the library for free. It's not due for three weeks. Maybe I'll read it 21 more times? Some striking quotations (a great Kafka aphorism I've never seen before: "I write to close my eyes") and little movements, plus the formatting and length make its completion in a sitting a possibility, which is a distinct readerly dealio at play compared to, say, reading something like Doctor Faustus, every chapter of which may have surpassed this one in word count. A "good read" but not much more than that for me, even if things are totally "relatable" for this married writer who's taught creative writing at the college level living in a northeastern city with a young daughter. No LOLs despite jokes. Alive, yes, alas, but still not enough for me?(less)