Monday, July 30, 2012

The Adventures of Augie March (by Saul Bellow)

Saul Bellow. Oy vey.

I have two giant complaints about Augie March. Number one is the plot, or lack thereof. Number two is the sentences.

Starting with the latter first, let me just say that I am not afraid of sentences. One of my favorite authors is Henry James. And those are some sentences, let me tell you. But at least with James I can generally figure out what the sentences mean, and they have a sort of lyrical beauty. Not so with (some of) these sentences in Augie March. A painfully boring 600+ page book gets even more painful when you have to keep re-reading these annoying Saul Bellow sentences to figure out how to parse them. Here is an example:

"If you thought toward something outside, it might be Padilla theorizing on the size of the universe; his scientific interest kept the subject from being grim. But in such places the slow hairy fly-crawl from drop to drop and star to star, you could pray the non-human universe was not entered from here, and this was no sack-end of it that happened to touch Cook County and Northern Illinois."

Like, where is the subject of this sentence because I CAN'T FIND IT SAUL BELLOW I HATE YOU. 

And the plot. So the "adventures" of the title are just Augie March meeting a lot of people and describing the people and being very very passive about his entire fucking life. Kurt Vonnegut said every character should want something, even if it's a glass of water. I barely, in 600+ pages, got a clear sense of what Augie wanted except occasionally when he wanted one woman or another. It's just endless descriptions of people and Augie just doing nothing. Or when someone offers him a job or a direction, he's just like "naah" for no clearly explicable reason. There's this interminable section in the middle where he goes to Mexico with this girl to train an eagle to hunt, and that might sound exciting but in fact it is as deadly dull as every other part of this book.

Toward the end of the book, once Augie is home from the war, he finally seems to have a job and finally wants something (to "become himself" which leads to some good moments, and more concretely, a family). I am interested in several of the characters. There are some interesting meditations on identity and life and so forth. And then the book ends. RIGHT BEFORE ANYTHING POTENTIALLY INTERESTING HAPPENS. $#*&!

If anyone actually enjoyed this book, I would love to know what you enjoyed. I mean, I don't think it is a bad book or that people who like it are wrong; it has its moments of insight, some lovely descriptions and interesting sentences. I just was not on its wavelength. I'm sure there are people out there going, Bellow is a genius! And you love Henry James, are you high!? But between this and Herzog (aka Herzzzzzzzog) I think Saul Bellow is just not my jam. 

"You will understand, Mr. Mintouchian, if I tell you that I have always tried to become what I am. But it’s a frightening thing. Because what if what I am by nature isn’t good enough?' I was close to tears as I said it to him. 'I suppose I better, anyway, give in and be it. I will never force the hand of fate to create a better Augie March, nor change the time to an age of gold.'"


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Take It from Here (by Pamela Ribon)

I had a miraculous day off last week, and I spent a good chunk of it reading You Take It from Here, which is only the latest book on my exploding shelf of Books Written By People Who Are Also My Facebook Friends. It's sitting between Wendy's The Wilder Life and John's Redshirts to remind me that I have many very talented friends.

I feel compelled to point out that I made it to at least page 25 before pouring myself a glass of wine to accompany the reading experience. The characters had already been boozing it up for several chapters by then, I think, so I showed remarkable restraint. (This is a compliment.)

All this is to say: I think this is Pam's best novel yet. I tore through it in a few hours because I had to find out what happens next. The characters feel real. I think the letter-to-Jenny structure works really really well to focus the narrative, though ultimately I didn't quite understand their estrangement. And I really love that it's about female friendship in a messy, complicated way. The ending was lovely and made me cry. I guess I could nitpick things if forced to, but why? She did an awesome job, and I am so proud to have Pam on my BWBPWAAMFF shelf!