Sunday, February 18, 2007
A little house keeping on the Book Shelf
Some house cleaning is in order, as three books have been read in the last month, enjoyed in varying degrees, and now lie in a stack waiting for a summation, a judgement. There are larger problems in life, and the issue of feeling compelled to remark on recent reading is a luxury in actual fact. How the book reviewers, paid and not paid, love to whine and simper of their peculiar burden.
Easily the strongest, strangest novel I've read from 2006, a parable set in an unspecified American future, set during an unspecified world-destroying catastrophe.
A man and a boy head up a road , past ruined farms, through scorched forests, alongside ravaged towns, heading to some future that is unknown, dodging packs of subhuman road agents as they forge, hide and push forward on the ruined planet. McCarthy's vision is spare, ashen, terse in the best sense of Hemingway in the
creation of mood and tone that seeps in from outside the paragraphs; this is the same vision of Faulkner of Absolom Absolom, but with the metaphorical link to an idealized past all but burned out of consciousness. This is a novel that will convince you just how tenuous a sane and orderly existence can be.Few craft sentences as powerfully, as effectively as McCarthy, and there are far fewer who create the the sort of haunted poetry The Road abounds in with such a select use of language.
The Discomfort Zone
Franzen, author of the flawed (and overpraised) novel The Corrections, is a good prose stylist who none the less makes my hairline hurt when I encountered his essays in the collection How to Be Alone. Bright, ironic, discerning, Franzen took off on several topics, filtering his observations through his general air of feeling people, places and things are an imposition on his right to be in a bubble, brilliant and unsoiled by alien hands. Fine , I thought, his itchy irritation with things was worth the toleration due to his finesse as a prose stylist, and the sheer abundance of unexpected insight on a range of items, small and smaller. Franzen thinks a lot, and blessedly he writes well enough to make his slightest notion interesting. The Discomfort Zone, though, brings his antsy tone to a grating pitch, like a plumbing squealing late in the night,These set pieces, recollections of a man who is unhappy he's middle aged and more intensely self aware than he ever has been,use up a readers' empathy. Though often moving--the piece about trying to sell his parents house after their deaths got me by the throat a couple of times--Franzen's writing takes on the rhythm of someone
speaking perfect sentences without the slightest variation in tone. Not a single inflection intrudes. He just goes on about what was and what was there and what it contained and what it smelled like and who made him nervous and who he liked and who betrayed him and what they wearing and what the ordered for lunch...You get the idea.
You wish would shut up.
Wicked and fanciful imagining of the story of Noah's Ark, made into a comedy with sufficiently contemporary allusions and unexpected rents and tears in the familiar
saga of how God destroyed the world in order to save it. Noah and his immense family
squabble, scheme, bicker and connive for some position within the Patriarch's distracted gaze, and all of them try to outwit an Old Testament God who is seen here as insane and mean spirited. The comic flourishes are very fine, pithy, funny.