The Difficult Thing About Novels

So I read Purity. I know there is a lot of talk flying around about Jonathan Franzen, and it's all too likely that he is a terrible asshole I am sure (so many of us are). But I really liked The Corrections a lot, and I thought The 27th City was pretty good, and while I didn't like Freedom, certainly 2 of 3 (one of which I liked a lot) was good enough odds. 

And so I read Purity.

I started out skeptical (due to Freedom no doubt), and stayed skeptical, even hostile, for about 200 pages. And then, oh reader, it was fun! It flew!

There's something so thrilling when a story rounds a bend into the open country and start galloping. God, how I love that soaring feeling. 

There are whole long stretches of this . And then—I don't know how to say this other than: the feeling went away. Is it me? Is the story? Is it a strange atmospheric disturbance? I don't know. I only know that I hit the ground with a thump (yes, sorry, I'm going to extend this metaphor just as far as it will go) and had to walk most of the way back.

I look for this soaring feeling everywhere. I've found it in opera (I saw Pagliacci this past year, for the first time, and there are some notes that seem to actually ring out inside me). I find it in books. Sometimes when swimming.

But the terrible thing is that when you find it in a novel, and then the novel lets you down, you can't believe in it as a novel any more. At least, I can't. It's not that I would say it was bad. In fact, I think it was good, if flawed (oh the humanity!) and I am now urging Strider/Aragorn, Son of Arathorn/the Ranger to read it so I will have someone to talk to about it.

But in truth, I fear that when a novel has part that is broken, the whole is broken. Which seems both unfair and difficult. Does this make any sense to anyone?

2 thoughts on “The Difficult Thing About Novels

  1. Yes it does make sense. It is unfortunate when the soaring part is followed by the pedestrian- makes the whole read unworthwhile (ok- not a word but you know what I mean). I now give myself permission just to stop reading. I may miss something great some of the time, but don’t waste my time MOST of the time.


  2. I fear that my deep down resistance to new things would make me miss out most of the time. And of course I know what you mean by unworthwhile. I guess it’s one of those constant personal calculations, based on mood and problems witnessed thus far in narrative weighed against pages left etc etc. I very rarely stop reading.


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