Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

Very interesting, at times sublime, novel. Three novels in one, at least. The first, framing story is about the down-turn of the marriage of a very successful video game designer and a counselor for disturbed children, a woman who has lost over 150 pounds finally after years of dieting. Her husband, though, over the 13 years of their marriage, has found himself fantasizing often about her death. And that's how the novel opens, with the husband accused of killing her by forcing two fistfuls of peanuts down her throat, which she is highly allergic to, and which he knows will kill her. The husband is also writing a novel, which may or may not be the book we are reading. He's also been in touch with a private eye/hired killer named Mobius, who may or may not have decided to murder the wife on his own

Enter novels number two and three, about the two detectives who question the husband. The first detective is suffering marital woes of his own: his wife has refused to leave her bedroom for five months. The second detective is none other than Sam Shepard, the midwest doctor accused of murdering his wife, who was exonerated and released from prison after serving ten years, a case widely believed to be the basis of the TV series The Fugitive.

The lengthy novella about Sam Shepard's marriage and affairs might be the best thing about the book, although all three stories have their power.

It's a bit of a puzzle piece, sorting out what is real, what is imagined, what is the first husband's imagination, what's his novel, and what's the real narrative we're reading.

In the end, it's a dark, compulsive, often beautiful examination of marriage almost exclusively through several husbands' eyes. Men don't come out smelling too nice by the end. Women aren't much better.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Solar by Ian McEwan

A nice corrective to Franzen's Freedom, in the category of "climate-change fiction." McEwan, skillful as always, has no trouble at all navigating the worlds of post-quantum physics, 21st climatology, dance apparel shops in contemporary London, Arctic Circle snowmobile tours. His anti-hero, corpulent, adulterous, selfish physicist Michael Beard, is a Nobel-prize-winning comic figure who steals ideas, cheats on dozens of women (including five wives), rigs murder scenes and nearly freezes his penis off on said snowmobile tour.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

The first-person narrator has just been fired, and rehired, by a university development office, where he had worked as a fund raised. "The Ask" is what they call their pitches to rich potential donors. Narrator gets reassigned to try to touch his old college buddy Purdy, who is incredibly rich. Meanwhile, narrator's marriage is crumbling. Narrator gets tasked by his rich college friend to shush college friend's illegitimate son, now a returned military veteran with two metal legs. The novel is all voice and no narrative. Sort of an American Martin Amis, but more of an obvious one-lining jokester.

All that said, what a voice:

Child care was like everything else. You got what you paid for, and your child paid for what you could not pay for.

You really had to hustle to recruit the right people to prop up your delusions, but the moment somebody broke ranks, or just broke for a protein shake, the whole deal teetered.

We were like the Frank family in their Dutch attic, but with email.

Why was I such a diseased fuck? It had to be society's fault. I loved people, all people, except for the ones with money and free time.

I dozed off worried I had truly unhooked myself from the apparatus of okay.

Never let them see you sweat, countless bastards tell us, just to see us sweat.

Sayuri's family moved back to Japan soon after, but from then on, whenever I inserted my penis in her hard little hand, I always made sure to insert the gray pixelated dot over it, like they did in Japanese porn. Honor is important to every culture.

"Hell, honey," said Claudia. "I murdered your father when you needed him most. I can take a few impotent barbs from my only son."

The man's hands looked ruined, though, rheumatoid, nicked and pinched by gruesome machinery. I'd done many odd jobs in my life, but hardly any heavy lifting. I stared at my own hands, soft, expressive things, gifted, even, like specially bred, lovingly shaved gerbils.

"But don't get me wrong. I'm all for capital punishment. I'm a huge death penalty guy. I like everything about it. And don't tell me how it's more expensive to the taxpayer than life sentences. Because if you ask me, we should pony up a little more. We should feel the cost of our ritual, revel in it. It was probably a drain on the Aztec economy to capture and drug all those people and carve out their living hearts, but are you going to tell me it wasn't worth it? Yes, sir, the death penalty is where it's at. Is there a chance innocent people die? I should fuckin hope so! Innocent people die constantly in this world. Why should things be better for those scumbags in lockdown?"

(on being an artist) "So, like I always say, it all comes down to how much you need to inflict yourself on the world. You're good enough. If you kiss the right ass, you could certainly make a career.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Devotion by Howard Norman

Norman clobbers the reader with his swans metaphor. Not much else happens.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

It’s thick and richly painted as far as it goes – but the sameness of each character’s “interior-ity” (is that a word?) deadened it for me, on the whole. Everything happened to everyone, and every thought occurred to every character, all the time. In the end, I was repelled (and truth be told, compelled) by how Franzen unspools this vast web of interconnected, richly detailed and remembered neuroses, and lets each character be driven by that, by neuroses and self-obsession. He’s so intelligent and wants to show it all over a wide canvas socially and politically – but I felt barely a ripple of narrative tension. A hundred pages from the end, I felt I could not care less about what was going to happen to the major players. Weirdly, I was most drawn to the characters of Joey and Connie. I hated Walter, though I believed him. Richard I didn’t believe, he seemed another side of Walter. Patty was hard for me to believe — Walter and Richard I could buy as having such verbose and self-scrutinizing inner lives – but not the alleged college jock. Also liked Patty's female college stalker, until she got addicted to heroin and sort of dribbled off into cliche. A way different sort of ménage a trois than To The End of the Land, in any event. Also, of course, energetically envious of the discipline and imagination required to get such a monster down on paper. Even if I seem to critically dislike it.

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