Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
A book that seems to be held together by a network of electrical wires. In a sense this is fitting, for the event Vonnegut was writing about was an inhuman one. The bombing of Dresden is presented in an apocalyptic light; the aftereffects flicker erratically on one of the survivors, Billy Pilgrim. The time travel and alien abduction he undergoes are possibly products of his imagination – his escape from reality. The book’s sci-fi aspect, the humor, the repetitions, the short sections that make up the text, the skipping around in time – all keep the reader from feeling grounded. Maybe the only way Vonnegut could approach his a subject was by using evasion and distancing. Though he produced a unique and effective work, one I respect, these very aspects were a barrier to intimacy.
The Dwarf - Par Lagerkvist (Swedish)
The Middleman and Other Stories - Bharati Mukherjee
The author takes on a variety of personas – housewife, Vietnam vet/psycho, immigrant. She isn’t ladylike, which one expects of a female Indian writer; she’s mod, tough and sometimes sets out to shock the genteel reader. But her stories – or the five I read – could not, consistently, pass the “So What?” test. There’s a pulpy garishness to her subject matter and approach; the events depicted in “The Middleman” belong in a comic book. Other stories, as if to display her versatility, are sensitive, more sedately written, but they too were marred by superficiality.
Stepping Westward - Malcolm Bradbury
Initially this book was like comfort food – the characters and situations were satisfying in a mildly pleasant way. But “mildly” is the crucial word; even the humor wasn’t funny enough. I could have read on, but the factor that tilted the scales was when Bradbury stepped westward. He’s very good with the Brits but has a tin ear for how Americans speak and doesn’t seem to understand how we act. I wanted to tell him, Sorry, old chap, we just aren’t like that.