Friday, January 2, 2009

Sweat and literature

Current book: Midnight’s Children

Pages read: 53-133

You’ll notice, from the information above, that I’ve made it to page 133. You’ll also be interested to note, then, (or, at least, I’ll pretend you’re interested, and if I say it, that makes it true) that the main character of the story has just now been born. I got prematurely excited on page 117 when his mother’s water broke, but there was a whole labor chapter after that. How foolish of me. This also means, though, that India has achieved independence, so I can only conclude that there will now be a lot of simultaneous political and personal development, of India and our main character, respectively. Rushdie’s doing a nice job with paralleling the development of the two already, so I’m actually looking forward to watching the artistry of his tactic unfold.

And yet…the problem with magical realism, I think, is that the characters are always so illogical and governed by the vagaries (yeah, 50-cent word!) of the author’s complete lack of responsibility to reality that they end up being both unconvincing and alienating. There’s just something about a character who lives in a world where anything can happen with no explanation that divorces him or her from the common human experience. Characters are mostly the reason I read books (though, of course, you can’t separate any one element from another). When I read a truly incredible book – one of those that’s so good that you miss it when you’re finished and you wish there were more, or you wish that you could go back and read it again for the first time – I miss the friends I’ve made along the way more than the exciting action or the beauty of the description. They’re the reason I cry or laugh or scowl or what have you. (Well, scowling happens a lot anyway. Especially when there are comma splices. When did those become ok?) So when characters aren’t compelling, when I read about them and have to think of them as nonsensical idiots, possibly even despicable ones, I get all resentful. (Technically, this also happens in real life. But when you’re surrounded by nonsensical idiots in real life, you can’t put down the book. It is also, I have noticed, considered unacceptable to take smug pleasure in their suffering. Oh, temp jobs. You have taught me many lessons.)

To get back to the book, though, I’m having this weird problem with Rushdie where I notice that he’s doing something – like using cinematic terminology, for example – and think, “Oh, that’s kind of cool,” and then he goes and tells me he’s doing it. It takes all the artistry out when you call attention to what you’re doing. To be fair, he’s using a first-person narrator, so maybe it’s purposeful, but I still don’t like it. He’s flirting with a sort of smug, pat quality sometimes.

This is rather negative, but honestly, I don’t know that I’d still be reading this book if it weren’t a project. Still, I did my reading while working out this morning, so that might have something to do with it. Nothing like sweating and breathing heavily to make you lose your patience with an author. (Or other people in the workout room who take your machines. Or anyone who’s breathing your air, for that matter. Look, working out sucks, what do you want from me?) Anyway, I’m hoping for action now that we’ve actually got the main character past the glint-in-his-father’s-eye stage. Come on, action!

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