Friday, January 20, 2012

Resolution Update #3.

Finished two qualifying print books and one audiobook, and I'm sorry to say there was no joy in this trio:

Dhalgren, by Samuel Delaney. I'm on the fence about this one, actually. It's one of those legendary "hard books," along with James Joyce's Ulysses and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It's a read-at-your-own-risk book. Eight hundred pages, and, well... it has left a lingering impression, but a weird one. The problem I have is that the main character— very interesting to all the other characters in the book— was not interesting to me. When he did act, I found some of his actions objectionable. I "got" the book's central trick fairly early, but I didn't care. The book is not complex; it is complicated. And fair warning, since the book is such a commitment: It's circular. If you're a fan of Apocalypse Now, well, when you get to the end of this book, you're still only in Saigon.

Collected Stories, by Katherine Mansfield. Nothing wrong with this book, really. Just not to my taste. Subtle domestic dramas. All well-executed, lovely pieces. Just the sort of thing I grew up with as the definitive "short story," when all I wanted to do was read science fiction (not Dhalgren, though). And a times the fact that Mansfield was from New Zealand seemed to put a difficult cast on the language. It just didn't fit in my ear correctly. I blame my inattention and growing impatience.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Professor Eugenides likes Henry James. Professor Eugenides has written a romance novel. Professor Eugenides has a love triangle. One male lead is one of the most irritating characters in fiction. Just someone you would not want to sit next to on a short plane ride, much less listen to for hours. The female lead is in love with him for reasons unknown and simpers after him with slightly more self-confidence and independence than the girl in the sparkly vampire books. The second male lead is interesting and is in love with the female lead, but conveniently hies off to Europe and India so as to miss most of the romantic action. Add vast quantities of money from the female lead's family (honeymoon in Monte Carlo? Really?), just to let most of the possible drama and difficult choices evaporate, and you have a very, very flat story indeed.

The strangest thing is that a sequence in The Marriage Plot gave me a wicked sense that I had read it before. The second male lead is in India, at Mother Theresa's home for the dying, and he struggles with the more demanding parts of the work there, finally fleeing after three weeks. I would swear I read just that sequence of events in another work at some point in the last year. I shall have to search.

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