Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In My Father’s Court - Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish)
This autobiographical novel takes place in the Jewish section of Warsaw in the early 1900s. People come to the “court” of the rabbi (Singer’s father) to have all manner of problems settled; through this framework we get a look at a world teeming with the whole range of human emotions. Though the rabbi has to be immersed in this world (often a distasteful task), his desire is to move to a higher religious plane, and he wants his son to take this path. Isaac is initially a listener/observer, but as he grows from boy to young man he becomes an individual with strong ideas of his own. The religious life or the worldly one, with its pitfalls? It’s no contest; the young man doesn’t believe in religion, and the world of sex has too great an allure for him. Along with some of his stories, this is Singer’s best work. *

Empire Falls - Richard Russo
A long novel that moves with the glacial slowness we had prior to global warming; even the attempts at wit are strung out, wordy, tedious (the funniest thing about the book is that it won the Pulitzer Prize). At the center is dull, good Miles, so Russo surrounds him with an assortment of oddballs, constructing a complex interplay between them that gets increasingly unwieldy and unbelievable. The novel is clunky and plodding. I don’t mind clunky, plodding novels, not if the author presents people and situations that are interesting and true to life. Russo does neither.

The Rock Pool - Cyril Connolly
Connolly made no concessions to the reader. Often the writing is obscure, the ideas complex, the language French. I read for stretches without comprehension, no longer in the story, annoyed. Yet at other times it seemed brilliant. The characters (expatriates in a French Riviera town) can’t live in conventional society (or are barred from returning to it – some are predatory rotters). The main character is Naylor; his moral and monetary descent is believable and frightening. The sense of disgust – self-disgust, disgust for one’s fellow humans and for life – is portrayed with force. Yet, strangely, a sense of life’s beauty is also evoked, though it’s a beauty lost forever. *

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