“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, July 29, 2007

book list

My friend Lorin, who edits over at FSG, pressed an ms into my hot hands a couple of years ago. It was Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land. Unfortunately, the number of ms. that are pressed into my hot little hands, plus the galleys that come in every week, are such that I have fallen into the bad habit of rarely publicizing anything. Also, I don’t really want LimitedInc to be too closely connected to my fading career in cultural journalism, since that would be too… well, boring for LI readers. Recently, Winn found Lipsyte’s novel hilarious and wrote a post on it that made me think. Especially this sentence:

"I know it's just more of that neurotic confessional crap which is all that is left of the American novel, but it's done from a funnier angle than Augusten Burroughs brutalizing the memory of everyone he ever knew for cash.”

Actually, I don’t think that is all that is left of the American novel. From my seat, the nineties were a really good decade for the American novel, while the naughties have been more disappointing. So I thought I’d list novels – not just American ones, and including translations – that you might want to check out since, say, 2003.

As I’ve already promoted, to the best of my ability, Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives, let’s take that as a given. But for those with a taste for great nineteenth century novels should check out The Maias by Eça de Quierós (New Directions) which came out this month in a truly wonderful translation by Margareta Jull Costa, who has doggedly been trying to insert Quieros into our consciousness. For some reason, even good novel readers neglect the Iberian novels, even though Quieros, Clarin and Galdos should really be as known as Balzac Flaubert and Zola. Among other things, I love the way Quieros is kinaesthetically alive to the drift, the fatal drift, of the governing class he portrays in The Maias. Life is charming, even though, visibly, life is getting worse. And a certain fatal torpor stays every hand.

I liked Delillo’s Falling Man much more than the reviewers. Delillo has become a cause for certain reviewers, like James Wood in the New Republic, who dislike his influence. They hate his cynicism, as they see it, and they find the famous style – oh, how certain reviewers hate style in a novel – disgusting. There’s a naturalistic default in the review world, which I, actually, find disgusting. However, it is impossible, I think, to read the final chapter, which puts you first on the plane coming into the towers and then throws you into the confusion on the staircases, without being, well, winnowed, worked over. Yeah, the Falling man performance artist motif should have been shot – Delillo is best at spotting how weird normality is, and he goes astray when trying to spot how weird weird is – but it is the best novel on 9/11 so far, by far. Another very good debut novel which is structured around 9/11 is Sons and Other Flammable Objects by Porochista Khakpour , which is coming out in September. It is the story of a California-Iranian family, and Khakpour doesn’t know how to make it move after a certain point, but she’s gotten down certain things about the Persian diaspora, especially in the first half, which are excellent. The best thing in this novel is the portrayal of the mother, Lala. I know that woman – or such was my feeling while reading the novel. It is coming out in September.

Other novelists that have come out in the 00s that LI would recommend:
Adam Langer. Crossing California was, I thought, an amazing debut. Set among various highschoolers in Chicago during the time of the Great Hostage Crisis (a pretty unpromising setting), it had a theatrical, antic cast – the high school novel as masque.

Ellen Ullman’s The Bug. Best novel so far about the software engineering. Hey, there isn’t a lot of competition! Still, there you go.

Most beautifully written English (and American) novel of the decade so far is Line of Beauty by Alan Holinghurst. A novel about gay sex in the Thatcher days. And about class. And about what happened to the U.K. The recent festuche on the intertubes about confidence and experience should have referenced this novel. Holinghurst is the guy who wrote the Swimming Pool Library. Now, it is my experience that straight men are somehow afraid to read gay lit. But don’t be afraid, guys – sure, you’ll get the odd woody at the sex parts, but more from the fucking writing than the fucking. There are a few writers today – Banville, for instance – who could score the death of a fly into an apotheosis of all things mortal and beautiful. Holinghurst is one of them.

They gave a national book award to William Vollman’s Europa Central, and I was glad they did. But the novel before that, Argall (2003), Vollman told me in an interview I did with him, was his worst selling novel. It is, well, difficult. It is another telling of the Jamestown story – much different from Matthew Sharp’s Jamestown (I recommend Sharp’s book to all and sundry). But if you have the patience for the cod Elizabethan, it is a lovely thing, and full of Vollman’s obsessed take on violence and sex and sex and violence. Of course, I even liked his Tenderloin novel, but I have a high tolerance for water sports scenes.

Let’s finish this off with the obligatory reference to the rediscovery of Irene Nemirovsky (Suite Francaise) and the two novels of Gao Xingjian – One Man’s Bible and Soul Mountain. So, though far from exhaustive, there is a lot of fiction, recent fiction, out there And it isn’t all narcissistic journal entries snarkified into a narrative emphasizing, once again, that we lead and must forever lead thin, thin lives. Because I, too, hate that shit.


### said...

You really want me to be in the poor house with the book purchases, don't you? :D

You might like António Lobo Antunes as well.

Dick Durata said...

Thanks, Mr. Gathman!
I'm enjoying The Savage Detectives now, and I've got Falling Man waiting in the wings. I look forward to trying out the Iberians you suggest.

roger said...

I like Lobo Antunes better than Saramango. But I haven't read any of his novels over the last four years - although I think one has been translated in that time. Three cheers for the portugese!

roger said...

Mr. D., I am sure you will like the Maias. Such a well built novel.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

This one's 2002, but if you haven't read it already, I think woggia you would like Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White.

roger said...

I haven't. It does look tempting - I looked googled it and see that Charles Taylor, a Salon critic who I feel is a bit ... (well, perhaps it would be unwise to emit a judgment from somebody I might be begging work from) reviewed it and praised it. I am a fan of some neo-victoriana - particularly Charles Palliser. On the other hand, I was pretty disappointed with last season's candidate, Michael Cox's Meaning of Night - as per my review, which I was going to link to, but The Globe and Mail has tucked it into the per pay archive. Oh well.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

i think taylor is odious; if he is the guy who reviewed Mira Nair's Vanity Fair and whinged about it not being facsimile-true to the Victorian era (in which of course it is not even set). But it's a book that will win over a diversity of folkses, seductive for the sheer charm of the style, which is not very precisely pastiche like Palliser but a sort of spirit-of-the-era invention atop pastiche, openly pomo perspective, owing some faint something to what ackroyd has done with earlier idioms. I liked it a lot. I loved Quincunx (we talked about that already) - the other one in the genre that really grabbed me was Waters' Fingersmith (really good, Affinity was good too but not as good); in this vein though - i read a lot of that - Quincunx is in a class by itself (for its politics especially).