Wednesday, November 02, 2005

i'll be the first to admit that self-aware film/writing/art does not an interesting work make. i'm presently doing my victory lap through american pastoral, the roth book that was giving me fits and my book group at work's pick. we actually discussed it last week despite the fact that most of us had stalled 100 pages from the end. we still managed to have a very substantive conversation about it (and i adore this group, its dynamic, and that we're reading pale fire next), and the few people who had made it all the way through revealed some plot turns that made it interesting to return to and finish, in fact 90% of the book's interest is in the last 100 pages. i bring it up here because this book is another example of a fiction within a fiction, as the opening chapters numbingly reveal that the narrator is- drumroll- a writer, who has recently rekindled his curiosity about a guy he went to high school with: star athlete, handsome devil, a beauty-queen marrying upstanding citizen. after that the narrator as a character goes away and roth plies his trade (i believe franzen calls it "contract writing" which sounds accurate to me in that it connotes a focus on commodity over artfulness here, though i think franzen intends it in a different sense) at making us forget we ever read that, assuming instead that this 3rd person narrator is now a benign device to tell the lead character's life story, which contrary to outward appearances is a trainwreck (a stunner, i know). just as there are a lot of other aspects of the ethos of absorptive fiction that i'll readily admit are sturdily in my bag of prejudices, this milquetoast game of hide the salami (winks to howard dean) makes it to the top of the list of reasons i find this book irksome.


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