Monday, August 30, 2010


When I learned that a certain Esteemed Author (henceforward known as EA) was on the list of writers who would be visiting my school during the coming year as a guest lecturer, I thought it would be responsible of me to purchase and read at least one of her novels.  I'd enjoyed stories by EA in various highly competitive literary publications, and had reason to expect that I would enjoy a novel.  I love novels!

EA has a new book out, which is undoubtedly why she agreed to guest lecture.  It's in hard cover, so it was out of the question.  I don't like reading hard cover books.  They're expense is not the reason, although the fact that I detest how careful I must be with one relates to their cost.  I consume books like food.  I read them everywhere--the bath, for example, which is why so many of my paperbacks expand slightly at the bottom--and often while drinking coffee.  I crack spines like they're peanut shells.  Having finished a book, especially a long book, the page corners will be arched, the cover will be seamed and torn and stained, if it is still attached.  Don't lend me a book.  Even if I beg, just say no.  Shamefaced, I will return it to you, with another book--a new one I hope you'll like, that I will have purchased to make up for the state of your borrowed possession.  Sorry, I say now.  And lend at your own risk.

I did no research about which of the previous publications would best for acquainting myself with EAs work.  I did what everyone does--I read the back.  Of the two I found at my local bookstore, one was about a castle and the other one was about a fashion model.  Easy!  Plus the model one had been a finalist for the National Book Award, so I could feel, as I brought my choice to the distracted hipster-nerd reading N+1 at the till, that my shallowness was in my faith in committees, not my love of the stories about Beauty and Blow.

Did I enjoy the book?  I did.  I read it quickly and late at night.  I found myself looking forward to arriving at home after an evening out so I could return to its story.  The characterizations were good and strong.  Its structure relied on a quirky, ever-shifting point of view that hopped around from one liar to another, which was pleasurable in the way it can be pleasurable to watch a friend converse with someone when you know she's trying to make a move.  Co-conspirational, I guess you could call it.  Fun!

I had some reservations.  The language seemed a bit over-mediated; cliches abounded.  But it was good--a bit over-done, but good.  Then, last night I came across a sentence that killed the entire book for me.  The narrator is relating a car trip from New York City to Rockford, IL.
"By the time we approached Chicago, we'd been driving more than twenty-four hours".

Wrong.  Not possible.  The trip to Chicago from New York, which I have done myself many times, on some occasions all in one day, takes about fifteen hours.  I say this from memory, so I could be a little off, but eight hours to Cleveland, seven hours from Cleveland to Chicago seems about right.  Let's give her an hour--or two, even.  Traffic we'll say.  Construction.  It could only take eighteen hours if someone stopped every hour, had four course meals. Drove forty.  But we will give her eighteen to be nice.

But twenty-four?  No way.

And so the whole book unravels.  Maybe it's unfair, but the reliability/unreliability of a narration is not always about the reader's relationship to the characters, but to his/her relationship to the author.  The book is filled with facts--about Rockford, about modeling, about terrorism and the early days of the internet.  But the wrongness of this fact, sprung on the reader at a climactic point near the end of the long book, makes me question the entire enterprise.  Am I being too hard on EA?  Should I be more forgiving of someone, just a person writing a book the way I am a person, writing?



Gregory Stuart Edwards said...

Maybe they detoured through Chattanooga, Tennessee?

Sylvie said...

I completely agree! I put down a book because the main characters were supposed to meet at the intersection of Clark and State St.