December 26, 2005

Reading

I’m way too fussy when it comes to fiction. I read the first couple paragraphs of a novel and it was poetic until an abrupt “her mother died last Tuesday” or something like that. Lines like that seem contrived; you become conscious that you’re reading a Novel and that the author is recalling to you that he is in the Great Writer phase of his life. On the other hand the novel, and the poetic flourish in general, is a much higher risk operation than anything non-fictional. The writer puts himself out on a limb in a way the no-nonsense chronicler doesn't. He wears no figleaf of information or polemic (though any wag can wave the non-utilitarian flag).

There is something so wholesome in Dickens or Shakespeare where the seams don’t show. They have the lighter touch that makes you think they're having fun or at least feel passionately - it’s not a set-piece with mood music set up to woo the reader, like the bachelor who presses a button and a bed comes down from the ceiling while Mancini plays. It’s somehow important that the author be having fun and it not be a work to impress people. With Updike there’s great word play but he’s uneven. His stories can't have a happy ending because for the moderns redemption is embarrassing, like laughing at a corny joke.

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