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Another fine mess

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Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
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Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
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Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
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Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
Remainder - Tom McCarthy Below--blah blah blah. I started with grand ideas, and then got sick of myself (see review of Snow for some more). But there are still things I've been circling 'round saying about this book, especially since Erik finished it before me...

Erik sees a book about the blurring of reality and fiction. Makes sense. But I'm a narrative junkie, and I see a(nother) book about our attempts to shape our lives into stories and structure. (I pretty much always see this, but, still. McCarthy seems pretty emphatic about the issue.) There's a lost narrative--the accident which disrupts the protagonist's memory and consciousness, an absence which seems at first to shape his obsessive post-injury activities. (It's also a story expressly forbidden, repressed legally--whatever happened to him, he received a big settlement which sets the plot in motion. but then he is not allowed to say word one about what happened.)

Such absence, or lack, or the "ineffable" which language and story never seem to capture, or fill, or complete .... that's the kind of stuff that makes Modernists, or maybe academic fanboys and -girls with endless (tedious) arguments to make about how Reality is always more than we can represent, go all weak in the knees. And the title points us in that (tedious) direction, too--noodling about what is left over. Story doesn't cut it. The narrator tries to repeat, precisely, the patterns and events which give him some sort of undefined/-able pleasure, and he fails, except for those moments where someThing comes over him, entrances him...

Postmodernists, or a. f. and -g. w/e. (t.) a. t. m. a. h. R. i. nothing but story, also jelly up when confronted with these sorts of novelistic hijinks. But their point is sometimes a gleeful nihilism (story, story everywhere, and nary a Dasein to drink) and other times a joyous plentiful meaningfulness (story, story, story -- ad infinitum). Remainder? A pitiful reminder, maybe, or a playful goad to the next story....

I probably lean to the latter. (I'm an academic fangirl. Or aspire to be.) But I think McCarthy might be up to something more interesting, or maybe something new. (Zadie Smith has already made this argument, 'though I think she's more interested in where the novel and Reality go now... whereas) I'm interested in what is it about the repetitions, the structures--the work of story--which gives us pleasure. The narrator here doesn't give a damn about meaning. Events must be re-enacted, not interpreted. And he's equally disinterested in difference -- repeat with every effort to avoid change. (And of course he can't.)

And when, toward the end of the novel, after repeating various "lived experiences" he starts trying to re-enact a crime scene and then a heist, this made sense to me. (It got back to something I was trying to figure out in my initial bad ideas about reviewing this novel with a generic horror novel--see below, if you dare.) When these re-enactments work, the narrator does talk about authenticity, or getting to the real. But I think that's a mcguffin. I think at least some of the pleasure of novels--of stories, of structure--comes not simply from Meaning, or Purpose, or Reality... but from the sheer beautiful joy of the crafted well-made structure. Crime novels, and maybe particularly Heist narratives, are stories about trying to *plot* reality, and they always circle around the repetitions which never seem to work. I read, as my good pal DK ("Herb") notes, a lot of crap. And a lot of what other goodreads pals call "elitist." I don't see a ton of difference. Or, sure, of *course* I see all kinds of difference. But I'm far less interested in the details of difference. I'm fascinated by this stuff of story, and why sometimes--within the most tediously precisely repetitive generic conventions--I can suddenly, like the narrator, feel a serene and intense pleasure. And I get that from existential thrillers and snow-monster chillers alike....

Here endeth the blathering. Stay tuned for more blathering....

So, one of the blurbs on McCarthy's novel claims it's a great work of existential horror, while on Ronald Malfi's Snow praise rings about its classical horror accomplishments. Snow's monster fiction falls squarely in the realist prose-stylings of a particular genre camp (I think--but, wait--what's that mean again?), while Remainder is the shape of the new novel, blasting apart the old realist conventions (if you buy Zadie Smith, and she makes a damn good case).

So I thought it'd be cool to read/review these at the same time.

UPDATE 1 -- 5/16
About 100 pages into Remainder and some 60 into Snow. In one, the protagonist and many of the people he runs into lament the lack of authenticity in our actions, in their own lives and selves--they're plagued by an uncanny separation between performance and genuine Being. In the other, the protagonist and many of the people he runs into are more literally plagued by an uncanny separation between performance and the genuine Being behind such action--here, too, what seems is severed from some sense of reality or Truth which haunts the margins of the realist prose.

Both books are also arias of Pattern--one more self-consciously articulating and assessing, the other content to rely upon the the familiar cyclical structures of genre.