fiction

Infinities by John Banville

Infinities
John Banville
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
273 pp

“….the gods love to eavesdrop on the secret lives of others.” So says the novel’s narrator and mythological character, Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia, the cave woman.

If we’ve forgotten our mythology 101, Hermes is also the messenger. And does he have a story to tell, a very modern story about ordinary human interactions and relationships and a story in the ancient classical tradition about love, larger-than-life genius, death, destiny, unrequited love. Continue reading

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Louise Erdrich’s Novel, Shadow Tag

Shadow Tag
Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins, 2010
255 pp

Reading theorists have told us many times that readers take an active part in creating the very narratives they’re reading. A text is not static, no matter what the intention of the writer. Once the story goes out there, we, as readers, begin a kind of paint-by-numbers process of reinventing the narrative to fit our psyches. The broad outline of the story is there, but we color in the personal textures to suit ourselves.

Louise Erdrich’s novel, Shadow Tag, certainly opened up my own politically-correct notions of what I want to read or see in a fictional work about another culture. It continues to be difficult for me to shift out of a rather rigid belief that indigenous cultures should exist in this rarified world of innocence, that they should not accomodate themselves, in any way, to a dominant, sometimes oppressive culture—Japanese art should be pure “Japanese”; Chinese literature should be untainted by Western values; Indian film should always be driven by the country’s Hindu heritage.

Although I have evolved to having made my own accomodations, I find myself sometimes becoming a kind of politically-correct tourist who doesn’t want any ancient culture to change. I am sometimes particularly hard on writers and artists who produce assimilationist works, hybrids that have their sensibilities in two cultures. Continue reading

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Alice Munro, “Too Much Happiness”

Too Much Happiness
Alice Munro
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
304pp

Alice Munro is one of those rare literary icons who has the distinct reputation as a crossover writer. She is admired by academics for her literary sensibilities, the mainstream for her easy-to-identify-with characters, and fiction writers who continue to be amazed at her ability to construct a strong story out of what Hollywood would consider to be the uneventful and ordinary—an impossible judgment to be made after reading “Free Radicals” and “Dimensions” in Munro’s latest collection, Too Much Happiness. Continue reading

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Roberto Bolaño, “By Night in Chile”

I  jokingly made the comment to a friend of mine that English majors, like myself, seem to revel in literature that’s hard to get the first time round. That doesn’t mean second readings don’t enhance our understanding of a work. It’s just that we sometimes distrust our I-get-it reactions as being superficial because they’re too immediate. For some reason, we seem to require wallowing around in the miasma of linguistic challenges.

Maybe it’s masochism or maybe we just have to prove to the world that we have some kind of secret knowledge of texts that are just beyond the ken of most mortals. And “stream of consciousness” writing is often one of our favorite genres. Similar to  academic art theorists commenting on abstract painting, it leaves us ample room to show others just how brilliant we are when the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue what the hell we’re talking about.

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