Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
I thought the beginning was engaging – the section about nerdy, fat young Oscar’s futile search for love (or at least some sex). But that was a short section, and gradually, page by page, Diaz destroyed all my good will. Oscar is abandoned (he makes a return appearance, but minus any vitality). Diaz fabricates one preposterous character after another; Junior is the phoniest of the lot, and midway into his chapter I called it quits. What Diaz has cobbled together is a crudely-made patchwork filled with a lot of lumpy stuffing (all those historical footnotes). He can use the language inventively, but that skill is put to no worthwhile use. The book is repetitive, gimmicky, juvenile, pretentious and vulgar; besides grating on my sensibilities, it bored me – profoundly. Lastly, regarding how Dominicans are depicted, especially the morally-challenged women: where’s the Dominican Anti-Defamation League when you need them?

Free Fall - William Golding
The premise is intriguing. A man is on a search: he wants to find where and when things went wrong for him. Golding jumps backward and forward in time to key episodes in Sammy’s life. I could visualize, even feel, what he experienced – but only with great effort. Too great an effort – I finally gave up trying to make sense of a lot that was happening. The density of the prose became burdensome, as did the level of unrelenting intensity; I wanted relief. Still, the hope for a revelatory ending kept me reading. Sammy drove a woman mad – did that terrible thing – but the conclusion seems to be that he was simply acting as his nature and the circumstances of his life dictated. That’s it? On the final page Golding returns to a prison camp episode, and I had no idea what was going on, nor why this scene was important. Maybe Golding’s Nobel Prize heightened his tendency to try to make profound statements about the human condition. But obscurity is for philosophers; novelists, first and foremost, should tell accessible stories.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other - Darcy O’Brien
This boy’s life is definitely not like any other’s. He was born to wealthy movie star parents, and the first chapter is an evocation of an idyllic time in his childhood, when the family was happy. But in the second chapter that world collapses; the ensuing mother/son relationship is very dysfunctional – sick, really. It’s her fault, for he’s just a boy (trying to take a man’s role). She uses Darcy to meet her needs; his needs are of no concern to her. She’s not the only aberration; increasingly I found the book distasteful – so many bizarre, crazy, horrid people, none of them with any morals. Even the high school girl the boy has a crush on is screwing every guy in sight (except him). Our main character walks through this nastiness with little emotion. I stopped believing in him because he didn’t react in believable ways. Then, a sea change. In the last chapters the truth surfaces, forcefully. We find out what the young man has been feeling all along: he finally expresses his implacable hatred for his mother. The final words, “I went into the world well-armed,” refer to the knowledge he’s gained; he’s become hardened. Yet throughout the book O’Brien should have been developing what emerges at the end; instead we get too heavy a dose of tawdriness.

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