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March 13, 2007

Comments

janitorman

I'm surprised "Crime and Punishment" made the top ten of unfinished novels in the UK. It was one of those books one is compelled to read by one's own self-sustaining literary ego complex that I was delighted to discover was so damn good.

I think Wallace purposely confused top ten works of literary merit with top ten books he liked -- in an effort to turn his nose up at literary snobbery, he committed the exact crime he tried to avoid.

"Annie Proulx, of Brokeback Mountain fame, finds Zane’s project 'difficult, pointless and wrong-headed.'"

I think Proulx confused a description of Zane's project with a description of herself. Witness the Oscar debacle a few years ago. Okay, I hated "Crash", too, but so much has been made of the venerable -- meaning, you know, "old" -- Proulx's still tack-sharp writing, you'd think she'd recall she hails from a generation that didn't whine when they lost.

Drew North

Pertaining to James Wood -

I recently picked up The Broken Estate at the library and read the intro as well as his criticism of Pynchon and DeLillo. I admire his writing and insight (Wood's), and he is one of the better literary reviewers (I use that term in the best sense of the word) out there. But, if I had a picture of a dead horse being beaten at my fingertips, I would post that picture here now.

This lowest common denominator Wood returns to again and again - that of character strength above all else - misses the mark when it comes to Pynchon and it simply will not work. I found the major players of the Traverse family all "well-rounded" portrayals, and when you have 100+ characters in the cast, so to speak, they can't ALL be right out of a Henry James novel.

Wood has also leveled this same criticism against Coetzee in a review about Disgrace. Brilliant review, but, again, misses the mark completely because he (Wood) is attempting to put square pegs into round holes. Oddly, in The Broken Estate, he touchs on nothing about Cormac McCarthy. Not one single mention. I wonder why that is?

Thanks for the link to the review and congrats on your recent nuptials! However, if it a choice between Wood or Pynchon and Coetzee, I think I'll take Pynchon and Coetzee.

Steven Augustine

Wood needs to widen the focus of the loupe through which he views Literary Art. Or, better yet, open both eyes. We don't all turn to the novel for instruction... nor to be 'frightened', uplifted or to have any of our emotional settings otherwise tweaked or redeemed; some of us come for the Art and that's what we stay for (if Art is in evidence).

Time and again, Wood imposes the technological limits of a sub-genre (the 19th century Bildungsroman?) upon the vast, wild, and not-entirely-defined possibilities of The Novel...very much how a man who knows almost everything about tax laws, say, will tend to steer all conversation (in a queue at the bank, or chatting at a cocktail party) in that direction.

Are the figures on the canvas in 'Guernica' convincing as horses and people? Are they 'true'? If 'true', are they more, or less, 'true' than Freud's masticated nudes or Miro's biomorphs? Was Chagall doing his best to get us to suspend disbelief in the reality of flying green-faced orthodox fiddlers? No, Mr. Wood: no. The draw is the power (and inspiration) of formal mastery; the delights are in the quirky codes and puzzles of the artist's personal vision.

Are the visual Arts *so* far ahead of their Literary siblings...or is it merely the reviewers (even the educated ones) who are terribly far behind?

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."