Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl disappointed me, in the end. The third act collapsed into much bloody running around, easy hero/villain situations, and a plot device (a dead man who won't leave the story) that might have been good if used sparingly but which is here a huge miscalculation. The story becomes, due to all these components, less serious and less capable of being taken seriously. The world Bacigalupi imagines is coherent and interesting, and some of his characters were truly worth the time. I fault either the editor who didn't push him in the right directions or whatever force it was that drove him to take short stories (two of them went into this book) which were reportedly excellent and expand them ill-advisedly.

I read A Reader's Manifesto (see my bookshelf), by Myers, which I quite enjoyed. Though I didn't agree with every aspect of his criticism (he goes after several acclaimed authors who, he feels, are unduly praised), the grief he takes from book reviewers reveals--what any good reader should have already detected--a defensive culture of mutual promotion and the desire to believe that some new great thing is always being released.

I'm writing. Baffled a bit, but writing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I finished Auster's In the Country of Last Things several days ago. Reading it while reading Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl proved to be somewhat problematic, in terms of getting my head into each text, since both took place in the profoundly wounded cities of dysfunctional futures. Both feature characters wandering through those cities in search of meaning and assistance. Auster's novel uses this—even on its face—metaphorically, and the "facts on the ground" shift from one day to the next for our protagonist, Anna Blume. Bacigalupi's tale has several protagonists, and certainly part of its agenda is to suggest that their city joins them while it separates them at the existential level, and none of them is seeking the same sort of satisfactions. The styles of prose differ radically: Auster is spare; Bacigalupi somewhat self-consciously ornate, though one could argue that it fits the exoticism of the novel's locale as much as Auster's honed prose fits the deprivations of that novel's world. Auster's tale is a fable and Bacigalupi's science fiction, but both are grounded in realistic appraisals of character.

Did a fair bit of work on my story "Clockworks" this past (vacation) week. I'm feeling confident about it. I just need to somehow apply myself to the work in the days ahead, as I return to teaching.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I like revising. Working on "Clockworks." It's like organizing a room, but in this case there's a place for everything you need to keep and the trash is easy to take out.

Also: reading Paul Auster's In the Country of Last Things, Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and . . . some Green Lantern comics.

See Shelfari (at the right) to link to the books themselves.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lydia's Davis's book of short fiction, Varieties of Disturbance, makes for a unique reading experience. I picked this up because a friend of my eldest daughter's had given her the book and I'd read James Wood's piece in the New Yorker about Davis's collected stories (which he considers as important a collection as Flannery O'Connor's collected fiction; quite a judgment). Some pieces are as short as a sentence, which makes the transition to her ordinary-length stories akin to a forced march after a stroll across a room. The pieces are all funny and often possess a detachedly ironic tone, a kind of weariness with language even as language makes profound demands.

I finished Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone a while ago. I liked the main character, or at least was intrigued by her; a "female" automaton, she's tasked with finding a way to transform her home city's living gargoyles into flesh. The book is shy with its details, so the world Sedia has created doesn't feel (no pun intended) fleshed out; rather, her focus is on the way in which one thing becomes another—the servant robot becomes free, metal learns to feel, stone becomes flesh, the living enter death, a city's government is transformed. The writing needed to open up some, I felt; the simple style fit our automaton's perspective, but the gargoyles' interior narrative sounded identical, and as the story increased in drama, the prose should have been reshaped, but instead felt flat. And through it all, I never had a strong sense of how exactly the automaton looked; the narrator held back, and I felt something more tactile would have helped. Some very nice moments in the piece and some surprising scenes that took the story and main character into unexpected narrative crannies.

Just started John the Revelator, by Peter Murphy. More on that another time.

I've been reading poetry, mostly, since that's what I'm focused on now in the early weeks of the creative writing class I'm teaching.

My story at Asimov's is getting positive responses from people. If only I had time to do more writing.