March has been a strange month for reading. It looks like not a lot got read, but there was plenty of Adorno and Benjamin and DeLillo, mostly in bits and pieces, that’s just not going to get a look-in on this blog. From last month I’m glad to say I finished Nicholson Baker’s Room Temperature – a slim, wondrous book, that I was thrilled to be able to pass on to my brother-in-law, who’s about to enter that strange second world of parenthood – and I was equally thrilled to read Just William’s Luck’s review of Chris Bachelder’s Abbott Awaits, which I’ll be looking out when I’m in the US next month. Together these two books make up what must be the totality of that minor sub-genre Intelligent Dad-Lit. Any other contenders, let me know.
Reviewing-wise, I read Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers (for the TLS) and Patrick Gale’s A Perfectly Good Man (for the Indy). A sobering pair of authors for someone just having had his own novel sent out to publishers, and seeing the first rejections come back. Here, you might think, is how to write bankable books. Gale’s characters, especially, are delivered up on a plate – so touchable, so knowable, it’s almost fetishistic. People should stop going on about Franzen and McEwan – Gale is today’s realist novelist par excellence, if you take realism to be the strand of literature that sets out, above all, to flatter the bourgeois readership that they, too, have, if not immortal souls, then inviolable selves. Good god, you think: if these characters on the page seem real, then how much more real must I be! (The comeback, of course, being that you only feel real, dear reader, because you’ve been hypnotised into it by all those novels you’ve read.) Continue reading
Close reading is one of the joys of academia. You have to read stuff over and over again, you can’t give it the benefit of the doubt, and let it just slide by you. Thus a multiple reading, among the chaos of a weekend when I probably should have been doing something familial, of David Means’ story The Gulch.
Short stories have such obvious pleasures, and yet are – for me – such hedged around with confusion and uncertainty, that I positively love it when someone instructs or encourages me to read one. One – out of so many.
Collections of short stories, it often seems to me, are quite the worst place to read short stories. The presence of so many others, equally good, a few pages to the left or the right, seem to make the piece you are reading embarrassingly contingent, at worst redundant, as if they’re somehow shrugging at their own existence.
It is the wonderful trick of the novel, the bossy, lazy, egotistical novel, to make you feel, as you are reading it, that it is somehow necessary, obvious, inescapable. That they are the only novel in your life. In between readings, if it’s a good one, the novel will percolate, stew, grow, run the laps of your synapses. It’s got stamina. It’s got the time and the space to include its own rereadings (repetitions). Stories, even those as good as The Gulch, demand rereadings – which is a risk: after all there are all those other stories right there waiting to be read.
The DeLillo jag (Point Omega, again, most of The Angel Esmerelda, Running Dog) was academia-related, too. Point Omega, on about the third reading, is increasingly brilliant. What I’m coming to admire most about DeLillo, once I get beyond the pacing and the dialogue (okay: the sentences – even the spaces between the words seem charged, the prose equivalent of the Pinter pause) is the insouciance with which he manages to bring tacky low-rent thrillerish elements into his ascetic, high-flown prose. In Point Omega he actually (okay: not actually at all) brings Norman Bates down off the screen in the plot of the novel. He’s got a serial killer in his book, for crying out loud. It shouldn’t work. It should be like having a clown tumble on stage in the middle of Swan Lake. But somehow he pulls it off. Continue reading