Continuing with the trilogy of the unselected novels for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2012 (which also included "The Pale King" and "Train Dreams"), I’ve read "Swamplandia" by Karen Russell. I wasn’t so sure about it at first, its absurdity outpaced its complexity until mid-way through the book. The premise was so unbelievably, well, odd, that warming to the characters took time. But once the characters developed, and the plot thickened (so to speak) and spilled out over the pages with excellent writing and never a clue what would happen next, the read became a great one. That the book was irreverent and unbelievable did not stop it from growing darker and tossing the reader back into cruel reality on whim.
I am relieved to announce I have lived up to my vow to read the 2012 Pulitzer Prize trilogy of finalists who were passed over (indeed, no prize was awarded); and have with some difficulty, lived through “The Pale King,” David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel.
Certainly the most complex, the longest, of the three candidates ("Train Dreams" and "Swamplandia" the other two candidates), as an audio book it proved challenging without printed (visible) markers to identify when the story would make a first-gear leap into fifth (a continuous disorientation of ever-changing themes). The characters were really pretty unlikable, or at least unwarm-uppable to. And of course, the basic landscape, the IRS, was not a topic I really cared to learn much about; after all, I know more than I need by simply being a citizen trying to avoid getting creamed.
Beyond the opening, negative comments, Wallace’s stream-of-consciousness writing ultimately arrested me, albeit somewhat late into the read. Raised in the Midwest myself, I realized that I knew these people, that they populated my neighborhoods, my living room, as I was growing up. Aswim in details, lost in tedious jobs, jockeying for promotions, and living even more banal lives outside of work, I developed perhaps a camaraderie for these misfits and sympathy toward their compulsive, eccentric, and left-brained worlds. And, yes, I learned more about the IRS that I care to share, primarily because none of it is useful in the pay-less-tax arena.
Recommend this book? Well, I did suggest to my CPA to read it. And I have become compulsed to pick up Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” his landmark book that catapulted him to heady fame. So perhaps not a must-read, but something to consider. Bear in mind this reviewer attempted to read Ulysses 3 times and never managed to read past the toilet scene.
before I became a believer. Of course I mean David Foster Wallace’s work, and I think I went about it backward—starting with “The Broom of the System,” then on to “The Pale King” (discussed here in an earlier writing), and finally, “Infinite Jest”—the novel that jettisoned him into stellar notoriety, and the topic of this post.
As always, I entered Wallace’s epic novel bewildered. So many self-absorbed characters and, really, uninteresting topics (prep-school tennis? mixed with a Canadian terrorist group bent on finding a film with proven potential to control the world, a recovering drug addict’s profound fear of becoming addicted again while recovering from devastating wounds from being hurled into an impromptu street fight, and oh so more countless plots and subplots). And yet, they all were actually absorbing and insightful. The writing was over-arching in social criticism, humor, and inexplicable inter-weavings, not to mention iconic craftsmanship and captivating writing that summons one back to the page as if a spell had been cast. And so, after hours and hours of reading, I was sorry to see them all go away and at the same time was abrim with angst knowing that in the last 100 pages there was no way in hell Wallace was going to button-up these loosely threaded stories with their overwrought personalities, leaving my recovering-virgo personality to twist in the wind, wondering.
I am grateful for having the perseverance of picking up the big tome. Having now become a believer, I grieve that other than the remaining writings I collected, there will be no more.
The author crafted a very interesting story around a humanist "book hunter," not only revealing how ancient books doomed to obscurity and likely dissolution were reintroduced to society 500+ years after their writing, but also providing insight into the 15th century thinking, the inner workings of the Vatican, as well how cities like Rome and Venice function. An informative and intriguing means of delivering a history lesson. The narrator was ideal for reading, keeping the story moving, speaking with just the right inflection and clarity.
Trains Dreams was a slow, immersive story that artfully unfolds a story of aman's simple life. I thought I would not care for a story of a man who seemed to have no introspection, but as I read more deeply, I began to understand how well this character was wrought. On the surface he and the supporting characters appeared two-dimensional; but now I believe the author was writing with the simplicity of the times and demonstrated how people truly interacted and presented themselves. What is so uncanny about this novella is observing how the character's true self was revealed so subtly, almost to be missed, if the reading was not attended to more closely.
Jesus' Son--why would I care about a manipulative, opportunistic lost soul as the main character? Written in the first person, I felt like this was the author's real-life story and I did not like him. But the writing was mesmerizing, and for every reprehensible action or discussion the character embarked on, I was transported by the poetic narrative. A purely wonderful experience. And somehow as the character, in such simple steps, attempts to redeem himself, he becomes sympathetic and an individual to be cared about.
Both stories so masterfully written. The narration in both instances was spot-on, a beautiful voice that characterized his subjects with a straightforward but empathetic understanding.
For once, I did not want to get to the end of a book. The author/narrator rendered a wonderful story about a dog I grew up watching on TV. So much research was presented with style and interesting language. Learning about the dog, his devoted owner, and the cartel of other characters that surrounded Rin Tin Tin in his many lives was fascinating. An artful documentary of a beloved creature!
The author places us in a time in history, we understand their constraints, customs, and morality. But we are not just observers since she reveals their psyches, their inhibitions or lack thereof, and renders distinctly and interesting characters set in an otherwise mundane environment.
This was a lovely fantasy that was both unpredictable as ethereal. Although it got a little melodramatic for short period, it held up beautifully other wise.
and I had to turn it in for a new one, thus wiping out the previous data and this book. This released me from doggedly plowing through this reading. While the writing had appeal and was informative, the author's personal reading was deplorable. Not his accent, but the way his voice would drone away half-way through a sentence, and nearly every sentence. I was constantly changing the volume so I could hear him trail off, slurring his words as his voice became unintelligible. And it was one, big, fat book. No bookmarks, so I never quite knew where I was in chapter and of course, finding the holy grail, the end of the book!
A difficult book to listen to, with all the geographical locations and tiger variety descriptions. So narrow in scope, written for specific interests. Very dry.
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