Eccentric Musings (jakaEM)

"I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy." Emily Brontë


still figuring this place out - Jen W

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Currently reading

Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro
Progress: 115/288 pages
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood
So Much For That - Left it at p. 46 and turned my attention to something else, thinking it was maybe my mood influencing the strong negative reaction I was having. Alas, no. Abandoned at p. 66. Those last twenty pages contained more hyperbole, overblown language, pontificating and exposition than I could stomach.

This is the speech Glynis makes to her husband, Shep, after a medical appointment during which she's learned that asbestos is likely the cause of her cancer -- asbestos her husband most likely brought home to her:

"'You could easily have known, and you should have! Evidence about the dangers of asbestos goes back to 1918. The evidence was really beginning to accumulate by the 1930s, but the industry had the research suppressed. The specific link between asbestos and mesothelioma was made in 1964. That was before you even started Knack! By the 1970s, that asbestos could kill you was basically a known fact....'" p. 55

NO ONE TALKS THIS WAY UNLESS THEY ARE READING OFF OF CUE CARDS! There are 55 pages of this in the first, ummm, 55 pages.

Let's carry on, shall we? (hey, I put up with it - now you can too!)

Two pages later:

"'Glynnis allowed that she wasn't very hungry, but Shep pressed that she had to keep up her strength.'" p. 57

Allowed? Pressed? Puh-leeze. (cf. outraged yelling).

Another howler:

"At Randy Handy--a salacious staff sobriquet so obvious that you'd think Pogatchnik would have headed it off with a company name less vulnerable to perversion--Jackson had adopted a new perspective." p. 62

How many ways is this sentence bad? I count five, at least. Weigh in with any I missed:

1. obnoxious alliteration
2. use of overblown, complex language (simple words are powerful words - salacious staff sobriquets included)
3. awkward construction
4. character naming (Pogatchnik - why??)
5. "Jackson had adopted a new perspective." Do tell. Oh wait. YOU ARE TELLING.

Going back a step to p. 59 -- because I want to be methodical and thorough in my analysis, given that I am 1-starring this puppy based on a mere 66 pages -- we are treated to the following two sentences. The first, a positively breathtaking exposition from the omniscient narrator, capped off by the second which includes a simile so forced and so apropos of nothing that it actually made me laugh out loud (while cringing):

"The boy didn't know that until a week ago his father was about to abscond to the east coast of Africa, and he didn't know that his mother had just been diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer, much less did he know that as far as his mother was concerned, the disease was his father's fault. But these hardly incidental unsaids emitted the equivalent of the high-frequency sound waves that convenience stores now broadcast outside their shop fronts to keep loitering gangs from the door." p. 59

This is literary territory most akin to little diabetic Jimmy falling down the well and Lassie barking her demand for someone to come with insulin, stat.

Now, I'll grant you, pulling those two sentences out and letting them stand on their own does highlight in a rather stark way the mess that is this writing. Perhaps those two sentences read better in context, you say, trying to defend Ms. Shriver (and she is worth defending, based in no small part on the brilliance of We Need To Talk About Kevin). Perhaps there was something intentional going on here with the exposition? Could it be, you weakly protest, that a point about character is being made? Okay, you're right -- she WAS trying to make a point about the unerring adolescent capacity to detect emotional fraud even when they don't know all the details of what's going on. I know she was making that point BECAUSE IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE SHE TELLS ME THAT! "What dulled adult ears could no longer detect was unbearable to adolescents, and the same might be said of emotional fraud." p. 59

Oh my gosh, I'm yelling again.

Many apologies. And apologies to Lionel, too. And I'm sorry to have to go on, but go on I must, because I haven't even talked about the biggie. The number one offense that almost caused this thing to go flying off my ninth floor balcony not 45 minutes ago.

Page after page after page of platitudes and politics about U.S. health care and health insurance. The whole shebang - every side of every argument, every detail like this is an op ed column, not a novel. Co-pays, coverages, the health care system of the U.S. versus other countries (England! Australia! Canada! with statistics!). Medicare, Medicaid, socialized medicine, Harry Truman, how employer insurance isn't socialized medicine anyway. Blah blah fucking blah -- all of this, ALL OF IT, IN THE MOUTHS OF CHARACTERS.

DIALOGUE. Yes! I kid you not!

Dialogue that is more like narration in a Michael Moore documentary only not as subtle. Dialogue that is pretty much unforgivable in a work of fiction that should have CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and the GRADUAL UNFOLDING OF PLOT THAT ILLUSTRATES THEME with - if it's not too much to ask - some higher-than-sophomore level artistry in the writing that is befitting of a National Book Award finalist and NYT best-selling author.

I haven't been this disappointed since I read Muriel Barbery's follow-up to The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

I've read reviews here of those making very similar complaints to mine about So Much For That, and they assure me that Shriver redeems herself in the last few chapters.

Ain't no way I'm going to slog through one more page of this to find out.


ETA Jul 10/11: I was inspired by your "likes" and comments (thank you) to think more about why I was so pissed off while writing this review last night. I think perhaps Shriver was trying an experiment with the expositional style/speechifying of her characters - in the same way that the quasi-epistolary style of WNTTAK was experimental.

Sadly, here her experiment was a huge failure.

I feel sad about that. I think her 'reach-exceeding-her-grasp' literary pretension is getting in the way of what could be great, powerful stories about important and interesting topics. She has the capacity to tell these stories, as evidenced by WNTTAK. I wish she would just marshal her considerable talent and focus it on the story itself instead of getting all caught up in some kind of elaborate trickery in telling it.