Saturday, February 3, 2007

This History of Love: Jealousy, Prejudice, and the Holocaust

What is it about January and February that feels so conducive to reading? Is it the blanket of (finally) snow outside? The freezing temperatures? The friends that opt to stay home and rent movies because everybody blew too much $ on Christmas and New Year's? In the months leading up to the holidays, the pile of books on my coffee table and nightstand remained unmoved. Too much to do, too many places to be. However, in the last couple of weeks I've found myself drawn to the quiet comfort of reading. One glass of wine, one Soma stream and it's an evening.

I started just after the holidays with My Heart Laid Bare by Joyce Carol Oates. I have only recently discovered how much I like Ms. Oates. Before I started reading her I admired her. Romance-novelist turned literary heavyweight. Now, that's something to aspire to. Like Margaret Atwood (who probably holds the place closest to my heart) Oates has developed this very unique, spare, detached, and serene voice. Both of them break the mold of the "female writer" by allowing themselves to look at their characters with an objective eye while still allowing their warmth and love for their creations to seep through the page. My introduction to her was with The Falls in December and adored it. What begins as a blood and thunder romance novel- passionate, erotic, moving turns... ever so slowly, such that you barely even notice... into a treatise on the criminally careless environmental blunders of Northeastern chemical companies and it's effect on the poor populace that lived and worked in their shadow. I borrowed Heart from my sister immediately after. It's a HUGE book. Honestly, I love huge books because when books are too short I tend to go through a mourning period as I grow closer to the final pages. I don't want to let them go.

But as I was drawn closer into the macabre philosphy of the grifting Licht family, Oates' cool aloofness and heart-rending keening began to wear me down. By the half-way point I needed a break. And, for a couple of weeks now, two books have been staring at me from my coffee table begging me to open them and find out what's inside.

The first I read about while rummaging for information on an author upon whom I entertained a brief crush after reading Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and falling in love with both Jonathan Safran Foer's style and adorable pic, I was disappointed to discover that he was married to a fellow writer, Nicole Krauss, who wrote a well-hailed novel by the name of The History of Love.

Now, with a title like that it better be a really, really, really good book. I mean life-altering. Because seriously, that is the most pretentious title I've heard for a critically acclaimed book since A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And I hate Dave Eggers. I wanted to hurl that self-indulgent piece of crap against the wall and have it break like an egg. There have only been two other books that evoked such strong reactions from me - one is Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which I wanted to put down the garbage disposal and the other is The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq for both it's impact on my life before I read the book and the anger it evoked while I was reading the book. But I digress.

History of Love - pretentious title with pretentious insides or pretentious title with deeply meaningful insides? Answer: Both - maybe. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely certain that I'm not hating it because I want so badly to hate but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that as spouses begin to resemble each other physically over time, apparently so too do the writing of spouses. I see many echoes of Foer. In the style, the humor, and the whimsy. It's a bit boring thus far and while I like my female writers austere a la Margaret Atwood and the aforementioned Oates, I do not like them cold. Krauss is like yesterday's pizza. I'm not too far into the book and I complained a lot to no one in particular but I really don't see why it's been so well received. Although...

I read a blog called Jewcy and a little over a month ago The Daily Schvitz posted an article by Hal Niedzviecki called Nothing is Illuminated: Jewish fiction writers must let go of the Holocaust. And honestly, Foer (as you can glean from the title) is their top offender. Is the Holocaust critic gold? Is it like a black writer writing about slavery or a WASP writing about their fucked up families, or women writing about rape? The Lovely Bones was a huge hit and I admit I loved it. The writing was absolutely fantastic. So was The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing and I loved that too. Is my crush on Foer and jealousy over the fact that she wrote a book and I haven't blinding me to a genuinely good work or is she riding a wave? Because Krauss' book does feature the Holocaust. It's there in the main character's background running like a sub-routine. Intermittently becoming the story. Updating the character. And I gotta say, I'm not pulled in this time. Everything is Illuminated stunned me. Truly. Foer is an amazing writer. I was transported. So far, Krauss does not live up to her New Yorker pedigree, in my mind. But we'll see.

The second book I picked up because of article I read on Gawker about two weeks ago. Entirely unrelated to literature it was an article about West Village wannabes from an article in the Real Estate section in the Times. They introduce Lauren Daitch and Jules Spehar, a yuppie roomie combo forking over so much in rent to live in the Village that they can't afford their own groceries and still consider themselves financially independent. I got a good snicker out of it, realized I could so be that girl (and have been in the past - without the Village apartment or the ability to afford half of $3,800 rent) given the same circumstances and when they posted an update (as they are wont to do) with Jules Spehar's Friendster page (she's soooo coooool), I noted with interest that one of her favorite authors is one that I've heard mentioned before. I can't remember where or when but the source was remembered as reliable and positive.

So I picked up Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The recommendation from the Schwartz's people was Kafka on the Shore but after a bad experience with My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum, which was a really frustrating experience for me, I flatly refuse to buy it if it's been recommended by a staff member. I simply don't trust them anymore. Because while Daum seems to have all of the potential in the world, somebody let her publish a book with some serious story-wrapping problems, thematic problems, her amazing arrogance, and above all her very obvious immaturity. On the back of the book someone compared her to Joan Didion and seriously, I spat out my coffee with indignance.

Anyway, if I get too annoyed with History of Love, I may well take a run at Bird Chronicle. Hopefully I'll fare better with that, I hate having too many books going at one time. While it's not unusual for me to have between 3-4 books going at one time I still find it vaguely dismaying. It's like my annoying habit of pausing films when I don't like what's going on. I know I should re-train myself in that area. At some point I'll have a guest over for a viewing of something or another and it will annoy the crap out whichever poor soul agrees to subject themselves to watching a movie with me. But for now... really... who gives a crap. For now, "pause away, dear girl, pause away."


winter said...

Wind-up Bird Chronicles is good, but quirky: almost a little too detached from its own weirdness for me.

And I disagree strongly about Foucault's Pendulum - but you knew that. *wink*

Jenn Addenda said...

It's not that it's a bad book that I wanted to destroy with the sharp blades of the in-sink erator, it's that I didn't understand so much of it. So good, so confusing, so frustrating - must cause significant damage. *wink*