April 03, 2006


Steven Augustine

For some spooky internet reason, I wasn't directed to the Lipsyte vs Ishiguro agon, but to the Foer vs Mrs Foer bashing instead (lots of satisfyingly liquid thwacks and thuds), which I enjoyed over-much. The Foer-Krauss household exemplifies my tirelessly exasperated assertion that novelists need seasoning (experience; AGE) to be of real value to any reader older than 17. Verbal facility is not enough. When will publishers stop behaving like record labels with this younger-is-better nonsense? Never, probably.
Meanwhile dying of curiosity as to how you chose to betray either Ishiguro or Lipsyte in praise of the other (laugh)...


I'm particularly pleased to see that the winner is "[not to ruin the surprise] by Mark Sarvas."

Congratulations, Mark, on such a great novel! Or at least on getting to take credit for it until they fix the page.

For what it's worth, I agree with your choice.

Jim Ruland

Nice work! I'll take a ham on rye now, please. Scratch that. Screw the ham and pour me some rye.


I like your choice as well. When I finally read the other one [trying to avoid spoiling here, so forgive the goofy term], I couldn't understand all the praise. The story was unsurprising and the voice bored me.


Damn, I must have missed it - they had Home Land by Mark Sarvas??? Too funny. And my footnote is gone, inelegantly crammed into the kind of parens I was hoping to avoid ...


just finished ishiguro [have not read home land so no comment there] and I have to come to the defence of the well-praised book - not for the reasons it's been praised, but rather the reasons you citicize it, which in fact were, I think, the very things I found striking about the book.

First, the blandness of the main character - indeed all the characters; the writing; the commentary. i thought this bold. maybe formal and maybe cold, but that blandness and the passiveness & emptiness left so much room to contemplate the central problem, which I think extends well beyond the scifi set-up of the novel.

re: Parlour trick: seems to me everythign about the book was purposefully telegraphed, and there wasn't any sleight of hand, clumsy or not. cloning was a non-secret; the naive dreams of the clones were obviously naive; the purpose of the art interesting only in that the kids didn,t wonder much about it. there was nothing very mysterious about any of it, and again, like the blandness, it was in fact the lack of interest in myths & ways out that was most disquieting. the bland acceptance. It seemed off; but very real for being so far off. and very terrifying, very demanding morally - perhaps more than artistically, which may be the problem it has.

but i agree with the problem with cliff-hanging.

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  • 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."


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    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.
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