Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reading 'till 2 am

I'm trying to make a dent in the backlog of blog posts I "need" to write to catch up (to the roster of scheduled posts that is inside my head, mind you!), so here we go, a quick one.

I stayed up 'till 2 am to finish reading this book last Monday to prepare for an upcoming conference. I first started reading it back in January when we were driving to Maryland and I couldn't stop, I was really enthralled, but I obviously had to put the book down when we arrived at BIL's house. Then I read it in short spurts at home and then got stalled for a bit -- there was a part there in the middle that was hard to plow through.

Then on Monday once I started I had to finish because I wanted to know the end of the story. Too bad I was a bit disappointed at the end. More than a bit, actually. This is one of those times in which I fully agree with the book's reviewer (at the NYT). I think that Michiko Kaukutani nails it when she says: "the novel as a whole feels simultaneously contrived and improvisatory, schematic and haphazard."

I also like these statements by Kaukutani, the first referring to various hard to believe scenarios in the novel (grandfather who doesn't speak and [my opinion, not hers], the man who had never left the apartment in years): "There is something precious and forced about such scenarios, as though Mr. Foer were trying to sprinkle handfuls of Gabriel García Márquez's magical realism into his story without really understanding this sleight of hand."

On a positive note, turned negative at the end (that's how she concludes her essay), certain
passages underscore Mr. Foer's ability to evoke, with enormous compassion and psychological acuity, his characters' emotional experiences, and to show how these private moments intersect with the great public events of history. Sadly, these passages are all too few and far between in what is an admirably purposeful but ultimately mannered and irritating novel.
I was disappointed at the "revelations" at the end, I expected more of them. I felt that there were still lots of unanswered questions and loose ends that weren't tied up -- probably on purpose. But some of these unfinished plot lines weaken the book considerably, particularly because of the sense atmosphere that surrounds certain sub-plots. Of course if I wanted any "closure," there couldn't be any, since there is little, if any closure for most people who lost loved ones in 9/11. It was a senseless and world-shattering event and the book demonstrates that.

The book does have lots of strengths, but I feel that it lost considerable steam towards the end. And I fully agree with Kaukutani that Oskar is a really annoying character. I actually thought (was convinced by him, I guess) that he was 12, but he's supposed to be NINE! No WAY! I have a nine year old who's geeky and all, but I don't think Oskar is a realistic 9 year old. Twelve would seem fine to me, but then, again, I don't have a 12 year old son and maybe even 12 would feel off.

Ultimately, it was funny because when I re-read the book I'm presenting on (after having started this one) I was really disappointed with it, thinking, something like "Oh, this is definitely a book for kids, pretty simple, with not enough psychological depth and complexity, etc." And when I went back to reading this one I was pumped up (though it seemed WAY too complex for a children's book and it does talk about sex quite a lot, so it would be more appropriate for older kids, probably not for a 9 year old like the protagonist). I think my disappointment with this book was bigger because the expectations were higher.

Oh well... I'm not even that excited about seeing the film now, just curious. I can definitely wait until I can see it streaming online.

P.S. And I was really tired the next day, which was really intense and in which I stayed at the university until 11 pm for a show.

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