The second book that I've read this week (the other being McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City") where the main character doesn't have a designated naThe second book that I've read this week (the other being McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City") where the main character doesn't have a designated name. A tell-tale sign that I am reading literature with a capital "L," or at least literature with allegorical significance, as this slim Roth entry truly has, being named after the 15th Century English play I was forced to read in Graduate school.
Maybe this isn't one for the Roth novice. There are some beautifully written passages (eloquent not in demanding wordiness, but instead in their simplicity), and the novel's obstinate obsession with illness and death is admirable, but the specifics of the narrative are painfully cliched. Many might lament that Roth is simply retreading his own themes and characters; I would argue he is retreading themes and character exhausted by the last 100 years of literary history.
The Edenic memories of youth (where, in one scene right out of Judy Blume and every other coming-of-age story you have ever read, he tries to convince himself that his hernia has magically healed itself the night before his scheduled operation). Senior citizens who congregate only to talk about their recent health scares and their love for their grandchildren. The aging leach who leaves his wife for a 24 year old Danish model who lets him do wonderful things with one of her holes. (Okay, maybe that last one is a little less cliched, especially in a work by a 73 year old novelist).
All of these snapshots from the man's life (the book's 182 short pages leaving room for little more) don't add up to much in the way of narrative. And the argument that Roth is knowingly dealing with archetypal experience does not make a banal narrative any more tolerable. Why I am giving the book a minor pass is because I found the second half to be quite emotionally affecting, even haunting when illness and burial procedures are detailed in a detached, almost clinical, fashion, and the lead character's serial hospitalizations for heart problems made me think about my own father's almost identical experience. (Everyman indeed!) Roth's Everyman may be another one of his self-centered, almost contemptible, creations, but as he reminds us, "prolonged illness's deadliest trap [is] the contortion of one's character." As one who has been around a loved one who has looked death in the face, I can attest this is one cliche that rings painfully true....more
Don't get me wrong, I love Roger Ebert. He was my entry, like that of many young people, into film criticism. And some of his newer, honest, and moreDon't get me wrong, I love Roger Ebert. He was my entry, like that of many young people, into film criticism. And some of his newer, honest, and more personal writing that he has done during his recent illness has revealed him to be a superb essayist.
However, the Movie Answer Man column has always been dumb, less an informative column for avid film aficionados and more of a forum for Ebert to answer questions with pithy little jokes.
And, again, when it comes to Ebert's so-called "humor," I am far more appreciative than most; he's funny like your friend's dad is funny. Compiling all these columns together into a single book, the joke grows old fast, especially when you are curious to know the real answer to the posed question. Even by bathroom reading standards, this one gets a major Thumbs Down....more
If Delillo is the master philosopher of the post-modern novel, Rushdie the satiric fantasist, and Bret Easton Ellis the brazen provocateur, then, baseIf Delillo is the master philosopher of the post-modern novel, Rushdie the satiric fantasist, and Bret Easton Ellis the brazen provocateur, then, based solely upon this, my initial introduction, Jay MacInerney seems to be the genre's humanist. For a book that laments the breakdown of human identity and significance in 80s New York, where even the very fate of literature and film is left in the hands of "pygmies" where giants once stood, the tenderness of the book's final 50 pages come as a real surprise. While select passages in Bright Lights, Big City often scream "first novel"--particularly a concluding bread metaphor (yes, you read that correctly) that is clumsy at best, amateurish at worst --the inflections of autobiography in McInerney's narrative bring a sense of reality and relatability to a genre that is usually content to wallow in the coldness of its thematics and the headiness of its ideas. That the lead character, referred to only only in second person, works in the Department of Factual Verification, weeding out errors in articles written by his lazy Ivy League colleagues at a posh magazine, during a time where he cannot even be sure of who he is, or if objective truth can even exist is one of the highlights of this often witty, rarely profound, first effort....more
Vowell describes Americans as “fun-loving dopes” and admits that she has come to appreciate her “one dumb-ass little passion” of Pop-A-Shot arcade basVowell describes Americans as “fun-loving dopes” and admits that she has come to appreciate her “one dumb-ass little passion” of Pop-A-Shot arcade basketball precisely because it has “no point at all.” And, while such an ethic can provide for a breezy and intermittently smirk-inducing read, the inclusion of some essays in this collection for seemingly “no point at all” (toss-offs on Tom Cruise, former Dallas cowboy coach Tom Landry, and New German Cinema particularly read like non-sequiturs) starts to make the columns of Maureen O’Dowd almost look like probing and restrained editorials by comparison.
Luckily, for both Vowell and her readers, her deft handling of topics like the commodification of natural and historical sites, our growing divide from our parents and distinguished figures of the past (the great “The First Thanksgiving”), and our national want to create an unvarnished historical record of our country (the two standout pieces, “California as an Island” and the titular, “The Partly Cloudy Patriot”) add some much needed heft to this hit-or-miss collection, in the end warranting a few hours of your time to weed out the gems.
Choice line: “A person keen on all things French is called a Francophile. One who has a thing for England is called an Anglophile. An admirer of Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s is called Pat Buchanan.”...more
After reading many other DeLillo works, and, like any truthful person would admit, often being behind on my reading of the major works, I know that I’After reading many other DeLillo works, and, like any truthful person would admit, often being behind on my reading of the major works, I know that I’m coming to this one late. However, by reading White Noise in 2009, I can offer this observation—the sign of a great work of literature is that, even when reading it removed from the time in which it was written, it still feels like the author is writing about the immediate present in which you are reading.
DeLillo, ever topical, at times almost outright prescient, deals with big issues, and he does so through a complex interweaving of humor and dread, pop and high culture, sitcom one-liners and Socratic dialogues. And it is only fair to admit that his novels are, even to an admirer like myself, simultaneously thrilling and exasperating.
At one point in the novel, the main character imagines that he has glimpsed Death incarnate and describes him as “an aphorist of last things.” Funnily enough, that description applies to DeLillo himself, his inscrutable koans about the entropy of the post-modern world piling up, one after another, page after page, until the reader’s mind is so saturated with ideas, some deep, others half-formed, that one wants to hurl the book at the wall. Yet, DeLillo’s style is explainable, if even commendable for its artistic restraint, for it accurately mirrors the world that he creates, a world (not unlike ours) where people (not unlike us) are bombarded by myriad messages and bits of information, but are none the wiser for it.
As for the plot, like any of DeLillo’s work, or the work of his post-modernist contemporaries, there is very little. This one involves a family extended by many marriages and divorces, and an “airborne toxic event” (a phrase fittingly appropriated by pop culture in the form of a recent band name). Yet, really the book is about moments, not a plot; about themes, not necessarily character. And the major theme explored here is as old as literature, or human life, itself: the fear of death.
This is a major work by a major author, although I think I am still partial to Delillo’s earlier The Names. And, while this is the exact book a graduate student like myself can find intellectual stimulation in, I freely warn that DeLillo offers little of the pleasures that one associates with the form of the novel. However, even if you don’t fall into the category of budding academic, any reader should be able to take two things away from White Noise: 1) a pervasive atmosphere of dread that is hard to shake off even after you are long finished reading, and 2) never seeing the supermarket the same way ever again.