My Relationship Status is Complicated With: These Summer ReadsPosted: August 23, 2011
What do you do when you are tongue-kiss-me-all-night-long infatuated with one aspect of a book and slam-the-door-in-its-face-multiple-times-I-never-want-to-see-you-again-pissed with another component of that same book. You have a COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP with that book. Just like on FACEBOOK!
Below, two of my complicated relationships from this summer.
STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett
I was nuts-crazy-excited about reading this one. I loved Patchett’s earlier BEL CANTO. The plot had been described to me as a female HEART OF DARKNESS- the only fem-spin-on-a-classic that could have got me more excited would have been, I don’t know, CLOCKWORK ORANGE? MOBY DICK? FIGHT CLUB? Anyway, I was really excited about HEART OF DARKNESS with vaginas. And the whole thing takes place in the Amazon. I’ve actually been to the Amazon! Personal investment points!
The basic plot is as follows- pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh (or Charles Marlow with Ovaries, for those of you Excel spreadsheeting the HEART OF DARKNESS/STATE OF WONDER cross-reference diagram) reluctantly ventures into the Amazon to discover what happened to a fellow researcher who died mysteriously while checking up on the research progress of Dr. Anneck Swenson (Mistah Kurtz He Dead with Boobs!)
So the first part of the book ramps up great, going from the frigid winter of Minnesota to the humid misery of jungle border towns and finally the bizarre and wonderful and terrifying puzzlebox of the jungle itself. Stakes are sky high and the prose is down-to-the-last-word gorgeous. And then… and then… the stakes just kind of melt away into the jungle heat. Dr. Anneck Swenson is less Kurtz and more Bitchy Grey’s Anatomy Doctor With Secret Heart of Gold. Every once in a while something vaguely interesting happens, like a kid almost getting strangled by an anaconda (emphasis on almost), but mostly we’re just hanging out in the jungle marvelling at the miracles of the Amazon til the very end where the plot wraps up way too quickly and neatly, like a kid who has two more minutes to play with her Barbies before dinner. The prose itself continues to dazzle and stun at every turn. But the characters and the plot drag. In the end, it’s all in the title. HEART OF DARKNESS is about descending into the darkest heart of both Africa and the human spirit. STATE OF WONDER is about standing around wondering at things. I mean, which book do you want to read?
RULES OF CIVILITY by Amos Towles
I snagged this book on Audible because all the editors over there were having multiple orgasms about it. The book takes place mostly in late-1930’s New York, with brief bookended trips to the mid-sixties, and follows Katey Kontent, a secretary with a literary future, and her triangular relationship with her mercurial bestie Eve Ross and Tinker Grey, the rich dude they both want in their panties. The complicated war dance for his affections continues throughout the book until a dark secret is revealed regarding his past and present. The book has been compared with everything from GREAT GATSBY to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S to Dorothy Parker’s witty observations to Edith Wharton’s novels. With good reason. The prose and vignettes that make up this story are rich and engaging. It’s a well-researched period piece, a deftly-woven plot, the wit is laugh out loud hilarious as opposed to smile-because-you-kind-of-get-what-the-joke-was-supposed-to-be-funny.
So what was my problem with the book? Well, I didn’t HAVE one til I got to the end and found out what Tinker’s secret was. I was not impressed with Tinker’s secret, or the tepid fallout that came with the revelation. The pacing had already been dragging a scoch since the three-quarters point. And then the climax wasn’t really all that climactic. I get that it was thematically appropriate, I get that it answered its own dramatic questions or whatever, but the ending, for me… I’m trying to think of how to say this… okay, I know how to say this… it just wasn’t awesome enough. Endings have to be awesome enough. That should be a literary rule, along with minimizing descriptions of natural settings to short paragraphs and being super sparing about using adverbs to describe dialogue, and by sparing, I mean, of course, don’t do it.
So ladies and gentleman and everyone in between— what have been some of your complicated reading relationships as of recently-late?