Reading and getting over the flu or cold or whatever

I’ve just finished the Penelope Lively novel Where it all began, which seemed to be the right thing for reading in my sickbed.  With all the subtlety of saturation advertising Lively returns the reader again and again to the cause – affect premise, identified by  James Gleick, in Chaos as “The Butterfly Effect,”  introducing the novel and now often used as a popular cultural commonplaceLively Cover.

I should have been alerted by the three pages of quotes at the beginning of the paperback, and admit I was taken in by the first three, from The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker. I mean she won the Booker, how bad can it be?

The best thing that I can say about this novel is captured in one of the quotes describing it as “cheery.”  Having just started Andre Dubus III’s Dirty Love, Lively’s Where it all began is at least a little refreshing to read about men and women muddling along and mostly looking to do the right thing. 

The mugging that starts the ball rolling could also be compared to that in a much darker Saturday, by fellow Booker winner Ian McEwan and the events it engenders, and by my reading a better novel. Consider Where it all began as a palate cleanser, a restorative, something for the beach, and a fine thing if you are sick in bed with a head full of  snot and cough syrup.  

Fortunately, this cheery, but unsatisfying read was offset by David Rakoff’s  acerbic, moving, funny , and beautifully designed and illustrated (by Seth) novel in verse.

RakoffLove, Dishonour, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish A Novel. There’s that damn instruction again, to be sure we arrive at the first page with the right attitude and appreciation that this ladies and gentlemen, whatever it looks like, is A Novel. Christ, it rhymes and has meter and rhythm – God forbid anybody should think it is a poem.

That is pretty much all I have to complain about this book.

Happenstance, tragic and comic, is used here to drive the story forward, never shorting the reader’s intelligence, taking some amazing leaps from character to character and through six decades of American time.  If you really get into it you might find yourself talking in iambs and rhymes.  There are more than a few tragic moments handled gracefully and a few well-placed down to earth ripostes; the most memorable perhaps doing for Crisco what The Last Tango in Paris did for butter, his character trashing a homophobic   “rebarbative bigot.”  Recommended.


This entry was posted in Recommended Reading, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Blog Subscription

To receive notification of new articles.