Michael's Reviews > Remainder

Remainder by Tom McCarthy
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Sep 12, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: literary-novels
Read in September, 2009

I read this based on a piece in the New York Review of Books by Zadie Smith about alternatives to the overblown Hysterical Realism, a style of writing, a form that is practiced most notably by herself, Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, and our new darling, Bolano. She offered Joseph O'Neill's Netherland as a failed attempt to stick with something like Lyrical Realism and McCarthy's first novel as a completely new approach to the novel. I much preferred Netherland, though I found both to be rather unworthy of real discussion. Netherland isn't much more than an immigrant's Great Gatsby and Remainder is a bad impression of a British DeLillo.

McCarthy's fixation with the mundane, the process of minutiae strikes me as just an extension of DeLillo's blank pop death. The awkward blandness of the story, its resistance to lyrical passages, the way it destroys the scene with the squatter, is maybe, more real than the Lyrical Realism of Netherland but who's reading fiction for reality?

The recreation starts out as similar to Synecdoche, NY the only poignant thing in the narrator's memory, the meaningless comforting dream we all have. For being a rather nihilistic, inauthentic conceit and character, the quest for the re-enactment is upbeat and purposeful, fun. The narrator's hazy memory leads me to believe his creation of the re-enactment is just a way for him to create a safe and comfortable, somewhat meaningful experience of life.

When he starts altering the re-enactments to his whims he stops being a recovering trauma victim and becomes a God, in his own little way. The narrator forces his employees to slow down their action and he sounds like some demented but convincing guru. Something about the trauma has made him see the inauthenticity of modern actions, the self-referntial and meta-real consciousness.

Ironically, he must rehearse everything to death for anything to seem natural. When his re-enactments intersect with reality it short circuits everything and he becomes numbly happy and we can imagine him infinitely looping in his private jet feeling the weightlessness of banks and turns.
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