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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recent Readings

I know I've been "inconsistent" with the posts lately, but I have been reading! So here's a rundown of recent book read:

*Norwood by Charles Portis. This is a genuinely funny novel, especially if you have an interest in rural America, its folkways and dialects. Norwood Pratt, a former Marine, sets out from home in Ralph, TX, to NYC to collect a debt from an Marine buddy, and then returns home. That's the plot. Along the way, Norwood meets a number of colorful characters, including a fat midget. (Seriously.) It's also a very short book, mostly dialogue. So a quick, fun read.

*And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. This is a first novel, too--although one published in 2007 instead of 1966 (Norwood). It received a lot of attention last year, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It tells the collective story of a Chicago advertising firm after the popping of the tech bubble, layoffs, gossip, and the nutty things people (especially "creatives") do at work. If you've read it, or about it, you know that the first half or so of the book is written in first-person plural ("We . . . ."), which I (surprise) didn't like. For one thing, it makes narrative almost impossible, since individual characters can only act through speeches, if the p-o-v is everyone. So lots of talking, witty banter even, but not much action or plot. The comparison often made is to Catch-22, and I think that that novel served as a source for Ferris. But Catch-22 followed a few characters, especially Yossarian, and told their stories (and many more characters in smaller vignettes). Here, we get endless stories in the breakroom. I guess it works, OK.

But unlike Norwood, it's much too long. The first half of the novel would have been a good comic novel; then Ferris decides that he wants to tackle some serious themes, which means he needs individualized characters--since "we" can't have breat cancer or relationship problems, right? So the second half doesn't really follow the first-person plural p-o-v, at least not consistently. And then, not to spoil anything, there's a novel-within-the-novel gimmick. I guess my takeaway is that it's a good novel, a solid first novel, but a little more ambitious than it manages to pull off. Also, the 9-11 tie-ins seemed kind of forced to me, and having one of the characters get killed in Afghanistan--too topical. If you want to write a humorous novel about work, that's OK. Don't also try to write The Corrections.

*Gone by Jonathan Kellerman, an L.A. detective novel. Didn't really care for this one, which turned out to be like Psycho, but with more bodies. Seriously, there's a psycho killer who stuffs (some of) his victims. It takes several hundred pages to get there, but not very original, or interesting. I much prefer my crime novels to be about greed/money than about psycho killers.

*Indigo Slam by Robert Crais. Speaking of money, this one is a crime novel about counterfeiters. Better than Gone, but I don't really care for Crais's too-cute writing style (surprise again), and detective Elvis Cole is just plain annoying, if you ask me. Sidekick Joe Pike is unrealistic in the extreme--like Spenser's Hawk, but more indestructible. At least it was short.


At 3:46 AM, Blogger tekne said...

Thanks for the Ferris review--I had thought that looked interesting, esp. after Salon put it on its list of books to read from 2007. But I too am allergic to first-person narration (usually), and particularly the 'we'. So good to know.


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