Novels by Poets

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It appears that I had a lot of mean backed up in me, for which I apologize. But…this has been gnawing at me a long time, so here it is: I have a problem with novels by poets.

There are about one million caveats I should make here, which I will skip. I will, however, try to make clear what I mean. I'm talking about Ben Lerner and Valeria Luiselli and Michael Ondaatje, thoughtful, intelligent novels. So it's probably obvious that the problem lies with me—all of these are clearly brilliant and talented etc etc.

I have thought about WHY this particular version of book bothers me so much. One of the warning signs is when the flap copy mentions "lapidary prose." Beware! And then I think: what's the problem with lapidary prose? I like excellent words as much as the next reader on the couch (I think I do?) but I feel I have finally located the source of my trouble, the pine needle in my sock: It bugs me to read a novel in which the writer cares more about the words than the story.

I feel this is probably a weakness in me. After all, it's not one or the other, right? And yet…the feeling comes to me strongly when I read them. It makes me (unreasonably, I know) angry that the story, which is just as much of a magical unreasoning mystery as the perfect words are, doesn't get its proper respect (and love).

There, I've said it. All ye who go the other way, be warned.

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