Here's the challenge I gave myself, after I was invited to write a brief review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom for The Book Studio: think of something to say about this book that hasn't already been said.
It's no easy challenge, since this is the big book of the year, and also since I've already written about the book twice on Litkicks. But I was determined to come up with at least one or two original angles for my Book Studio piece. I was also determined to write about the book and only the book, and not to review the media coverage (as so many other reviewers have done).
Congratulations to up-and-coming indie novelist Tao Lin for scoring a full-page review -- not necessarily a positive review, but a riveting one -- in yesterday's Sunday New York Times Book Review. Nice break!
I'm not workin' the NYTBR beat anymore, but I will pay attention at moments like these. I've been watching Tao's unusual career from the beginning (when I reviewed his first book and called him "faux naif"), and I've appeared at a couple of literary readings with him. His performance style, like his prose, is highly deadpan. The nervous laughter in the audience comes during his awkward silences, just as it does in his novels.
“Mademoiselle Albertine has gone!” These are the words that open A La Recherche du Temps Perdu's sixth book, La Fugitive. M. has often contemplated terminating his relationship with Albertine. This morning, finally determined to do so, he is greeted with the news that his mistress has fled.
A moment before I believed that this separation without having seen each other was precisely what I wished […] but now these words: ‘Mademoiselle Albertine has gone,’ had produced in my heart an anguish such that I felt that I could not endure it much longer…
Love dies hard, especially in the Proustian universe. M. has rationalized the separation from Albertine many times in his mind: now he must live through the very real agony of the break up.
(We're nearing the end -- two more installments to go, after this one -- of Michael Norris's slow walk through Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. The painting, once again, is by David Richardson. -- Levi)
Volume five of Proust's In Search of Lost Time is titled La Prisonniere (in English, The Prisoner). This title is more apt than the common translation The Captive, for the book is about how M. keeps Albertine as a prisoner in his house in Paris, to “protect” her from her lesbian tendencies.
This chapter is perhaps the most the most puzzling, the most dismal, and finally the most infuriating in the entirety of A La Recherche.
Puzzling, because the narrator’s actions seem strange and unnatural. This chapter explores to the very depths Proust’s major theme of jealousy, of the desire to possess another being. M. has ceased to love Albertine, and in lucid moments, he vows that he will break with her, and resolves to do so the next day. But then a whiff of suspicion that Albertine is seeing someone else, or making an assignation behind his back stirs up his jealousy, which he identifies as a rekindling of love -- a stirring of his old feelings for her -- and the whole idea of breaking with her is abandoned.
I'm taking a little summer break from the heavy-thinking blog posts, but here's a picture and a song to take their place.
I wonder if the essence of romantic love is not that you always see beauty in the other person's face, but that you find their face endlessly fascinating. That's what my wife Caryn's 365 Flickr project has really brought out personally for me.
Bad Marie is a funny yet strangely haunting new novel by Marcy Dermansky. The hero of the book swipes the husband and young child of one of her only friends for a romp in Paris. She meets several movie stars, stays in very fancy hotels, and ends up flying back across the ocean to barge in on a family that hates her in one of the poorest sections of Mexico. Despite the fun Marie's having, the narrative dwells hilariously on everything she encounters that annoys her. Through it all, though, she never neglects to change a diaper that needs changing, and by the end of the book Marie seems to have even grown up a bit herself. I had a chance to ask the author of this enigmatic new hit novel a few questions. Off we go:
Levi: Bad Marie certainly is "bad", at least by any rational standard. She gets fired from her nanny job and then steals the baby, along with clothes, a husband or two and some credit cards. And yet, she is clearly a sympathetic and likable character. Are you trying to deliver a philosophical message about the relativity of good and evil, or what?
You folks did great this time -- not a single wrong guess! Indeed, the answer to yesterday's quiz question is the La Mancha region in Central Spain, north of Toledo and south of Madrid, where Miguel de Cervantes set his great comic novel Don Quixote.
Cervantes did not live in the La Mancha region himself, but he was born nearby in Central Spain and was certainly familiar with the area. A town called Cervantes can also be found in this vicinity, though I have not been able to figure out whether he was named for this town or it was named for him (if anybody knows, please fill us in). Some literary experts believe that he chose the La Mancha region as the home for his hero just so he could name him "Don Quixote de la Mancha" (this was apparently funny, as "mancha" meant "stain").
A great fictional hero roamed the dry and windy plains shown in the image above. His mind was on adventure and romance, and he found his fill of both. Can you identify the novel and the place?
Here are a few clues:
• He loved a woman who was known for her sweet disposition. It is not clear, however, that she ever appreciated his affection.
• He managed to hire an assistant by promising this assistant an island. It is not clear, however, where they thought an island could be found in this landlocked region.
• This novel is a celebrated work of metafiction, though unlike most works of metafiction it cannot possibly be called postmodern.
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust--
... Yes if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow ...
-- Gregory Corso, Marriage
Two very special people I know, including one person you've met here before, are getting married this weekend. I'm very excited and obviously not able to do much blogging -- but regular programming will return on Monday and I'll be back with the Book Review next weekend.
2. I don't always finish his books, but I always get a kick out of Chuck Palahniuk. His signature novel Fight Club established him as a guy's guy kind of writer, and he still carries an aura of sweat and blood and testosterone (not to mention soap). Give the guy credit for throwing curveballs at his readers, because several of his follow-up works (like Diary and the new Tell-All) seem to lavish in a feminine sensibility. Tell-All is a send-up of vintage Hollywood, featuring a pampered aging movie actress and the allegedly dubious literary legacy of Lillian Hellman. Honestly, the book baffles me, and I had to stop reading it because I felt I did not know enough about the era it is parodying to understand the references. And yet, even this slap in the face to Palahniuk's sweaty male following does not seem to hurt his sales (nor has the author's revelation that he is gay) I don't always finish Chuck Palahniuk's books, but I will always be fascinated by his mystique, and curious about what the hell weird book he's going to write next.