I just got a copy of this, and I'll be coming to it shortly... and then, noodling about online, found Whitehead pissing up James Wood's leg
, which whets the appetite.
Finished. I think I fell in love with Colson Whitehead before I even cracked a spine, just looking at that moniker on the cover -- the name and title (The Intuitionist
) in retrospect seem like the kind of thing he'd make up, language that catches you up, slows you down to pay attention, even as you delight in the surprise of how the letters run together. There seems to be some oblique sense, some intriguing joke, not to mention a hum-worthy verbal delight, in that name and that title. (And, yeah, I know: he didn't name himself. But. As my old writing instructor Fister McBunghole used to say, every label is a tool.)
This new title may seem at first more straightforward (oh, yes, a place), but the tongue stumbles over sag before flowing out into that harbor, and I'm already wondering about the collision between the atrophy and aging implied by word one while word two suggests home ports and entry ways into the world. Apt for a quasi-autobiographical episodic narrative which finds much pleasure in the byways of long-ago poplore even as it circles 'round and casts a few cold-eyed stares at some private pain.
There's not a lot of forward motion in the book: episodic is not a critique, but those seeking an arc of discovery or maturation or even just a clean clear narrative path should seek out some other quasi-autobiography. Watch the narrator Benji as he studies his father's attention to barbecue prep:
"To people like you and me, a briquette is a briquette. Not to him. He seemed to analyze each coal individually, taking measures of its strengths, deficits, secret potential. The diamond in the darkness. He knew where they needed to go, recognizing the uniqueness of each cube and determining where it fit with the rest of the team. He assembled the pyramid meticulously, perceiving the invisible--the crooked corridors of ventilation between the briquettes, the heat traps and inevitable vectors of released energy, any potential irregularity that might undermine the project. The sublime interconnectedness of it all. He asserted his order. Built his fire."
To people like you and me, Whitehead's obsessive detailing is not mere pop ticcing or audience tickling: there's an attention to the purposes of each detour through the mechanics of slang, hip hop, Cosby. If you don't enjoy such detours, or worse want to dismiss them as digressions from the work of narrative, Whitehead's not your guy. I, on the other hand, see him building a complex order out of ths narrative -- avoiding the temptation for closure, for those cheap engines of plot thrumming so tediously under so many memoirs-slash-autobiographical-fictions. The narrative sags, so you can explore.
And there's the aforementioned pleasures of prose, complemented by constant biting wit. (Benji's father, dismissing the many critics of his technique, simply snaps "Whitey invented lighter fluid for a reason.")
And--minor minor spoilers--there's also some amazing, tough stuff about Dad that creeps in after a hundred pages of relative peace, a few memories and dark hints and open bursts of anger that complement and complicate the more Arcadian energies of the rest of the novel.