Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Moons of Jupiter - Alice Munro
In this collection Munro is at her near-best, which is formidable. Her perspective is from the tail end of middle-age. Sometimes she looks back at childhood and parents; sometimes she looks ahead at old age. With both these subjects she does her strongest work. (My favorite story, “Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Kidd,” takes place in a nursing home.) The weakest ones, for me, were about women in their late forties who are caught up in fervent sexual relationships. Their desperation and neediness made me uncomfortable; they’re abject before men who consume their entire being. The men are similar: unprepossessing fellows with a knack for attracting women and then dropping them. Disappointment and loss and death are present in many of these stories. But Munro is a chronicler of life, and the stage she’s exploring in this collection is a difficult one.

Solomon Gursky Was Here - Mordecai Richler
I stopped after reading over 300 pages. This is an ambitious novel, and the author has a great deal of talent. But the talent is given too free a rein. So many, many characters, so many, many plot strands! Each done well, but never coalescing into a coherent whole. Everybody and everything is extreme, overly-colorful. A richness on this scale has to be controlled because it wears the reader down – especially when the reason to be reading this stuff becomes more and more tenuous. Here I am at page 300, and I’m in a bog. Then I went into full critical mode: Why so much raunchiness, and why did Richler (a Jew) cook up such a rotten bunch of Jews? This book became offensive to me.

The Company She Keeps - Mary McCarthy
This is supposed to be a novel, but it’s a group of short stories. No engaging or distinct personalities emerge. This is one of McCarthy’s shortcomings. She can be overly analytical, like a scientist examining human specimens (and sometimes dissecting them). Her writing/dissection is done with such thoroughness that it’s tedious to read her when she’s in this mode. When she cared about her characters (not loved them; just cared) – as in The Groves of Academe or A Charmed Life – her intelligence was used to good purpose.

First Love and Other Stories - Samuel Beckett (French)
Recently I tried Murphy again, and again quit after four or five pages. For me, Beckett is unreadable. I get lost in words that are only vaguely connected to a world I can relate to. Every once in a while some situation or image or personality or feeling will come floating along, and I grasp at it (desperately) but it slips away, and I’m again lost.

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