Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who ARE you people?

Perused my stats for this blog just a moment ago. (Had never before noticed the map feature.) So who is checking in here from Russia, Brazil, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Bulgaria, Poland, South Korea, and Mexico?

Stand and be recognized! (I'm just so curious . . . )

A sorrow, isn't it, for those who've come from so far (albeit instantaneously), that I have so little to say? This week, much mental energy was expended on school. And then, of course, there was the OK Go concert Tuesday night. (No, that didn't tax me mentally except as a consequence of my getting little sleep that night.)

At some point this week, I did write a page of the sixth "old man tale" (I'm supposed to be working on the third tale in the disordered sequence). Coming up with a cool opening now for that final segment makes the whole thing look much more possible. Not that the completed series seems impossible, but the slowness of my labors (and incompleteness of my knowledge about every remaining tale) makes the process seem like a function more of time than of effort—that is, I know it'll eventually happen, but it's as remote as a promise to yourself that you forgot you made.

Did that make any sense? Too much narrative uncertainty in my life, what with "The Secret Sharer" and Wuthering Heights on my lips and banging about my brain.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More to read here

Since Fictionwise has now stopped selling the March 2010 Asimov's (thus ending the six-month embargo on my use of the story), I'm posting a PDF of the tale over to the right. If you missed it before, have a look now. I figure it's useful to provide for anyone who comes upon the next story, "Clockworks," and wants to see the other existing component.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Roth's *Nemesis*: I'm not feeling it.

Before setting down my own thoughts on Roth's new novel, I checked out the two reviews run by the New York Times. Two questions, I have: Why did you both give away nearly every plot point? Why did you both ignore the book's weaknesses? Kakutani at least allows that the final section is melodramatic and the entire plot unsurprising (so that makes it okay to reveal it all?), and the reviewers are right to praise aspects of the novel, but neither Kakutani nor Leah Hager Cohen gives the full picture.

The plot (I'll spare you the details you shouldn't know) involves morally upright Bucky Cantor, phys ed teacher and playground supervisor, living through and with the outrage of polio in the summer of 1944 in Newark. Weak eyesight has kept him from the war, and he wishes he could be a heroic man like his two friends fighting in Europe, but his life forces upon him other choices which might prove heroic. Complicating matters is his girlfriend, who wants him to join her at a summer camp a safe distance from the Newark outbreak.

The novel is short, though one problem may be that it's not short enough. Roth's narrator (who remains hidden by the narrative for a good long time, though Roth's purposes with this construction feel inconsequential or even poorly considered) is repetitious. In a short book, you don't have to keep reminding me about the girlfriend's favorite song or mention that he'd just heard it the other day, because I just read that. That's a persistent issue, as the narrator, representing Bucky's thoughts, lets play out circular arguments that simply aren't that well composed. The language is flat—except for some lovely descriptions—and made me long for the lines of powerful writers who could bring some rhetorical heft to a character's thoughts. A much tighter book would have been better. Even the third act, though relatively short, is told in such a circumlocutious way, it feels like an early draft—and, again, raises the issue of why this particular narrator is of any use.

Roth does capture an era well, and the book is full of beautiful moments, though quite a few of them get pounded into the ground. It's a sentimental book, but the sentiment clouds its seriousness, so that the questions raised don't feel like real questions. And the questioner, Bucky, seemed less real to me as the novel continued. For some reason, he remains more a set of behaviors than a real human. Kakutani, too, says that he's flat. But he's the center of the story.

I wanted to like the book, but from the reportorial opening to the overwrought middle to the not-terribly-credible blather at the end, Roth let me down. At its core, I think there's a great novella, but instead it's a meandering essay on the burden of conscience.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Creeping along

During the school year, it's tough to make much progress with either reading or writing, except during breaks. As such, here's the slim report:

A little bit of writing on this today. Now pretty sure it's taking place in 1925. I wrote about a page two days ago, realizing that I needed to stop doinking about and actually produce some text. As a result, I now have something resembling an opening page, and I moved some things around to give myself a fair sense of how the opening scenes will develop. Still, large chunks of this story remain a mystery to me. In order to take on their necessary flesh, they'll likely become pretty sizable, so I won't be surprised to have another novelette on my hands. (I think each of the "Old Man" stories should be a novelette, but every time I begin, I start with rather slender elements.) For "Unearthed," and for another story (or set of stories, or perhaps a novel--all set in an alternate world), I've been drawing some inspiration and information from . . .

The Day We Found the Universe, by Marcia Bartusiak
An excellent book so far, it details the history of modern astronomy and astrophysics, focusing on events that led to the 1925 announcement of certitude regarding the actual (and once unthinkable) size of the universe. To realize that, only a little more than a century ago, most people thought the Milky Way was coequal with the universe is to enter such a profoundly different way of thinking, and Bartusiak then makes us feel the shock when the wide world gets immeasurably wider.

I also started, just yesterday, Philip Roth's latest novel, Nemesis, about the polio epidemic coming to a small New Jersey town. The story is interesting, so far, but the writing feels flat. Roth has never done much for me, and I've been amazed for some time how he's become a kind of literary elder statesman.