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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Joan Didion's Lost Message

I don’t have Internet access in the English Department office yet, so I am writing this on Word and cut and pasting it into Blogger. I finished reading Dirda a while back and in between re-read one of our summer reading books, “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.” It is the story of a young woman who is burnt as a child and now suffers more than just disfigurement from her physical scars. She teams up with “Moby” or Eric Calhoune as her best friend. Eric is called “Moby” because he is excessively over-weighed but participates in the swimming team; so the nickname Moby comes from “Moby-Dick.” Sarah is hiding the secret that it was her demented father who put her face straight into a kitchen range. The excuse of her dropping a pot of boiling spaghetti on herself is the only thing she has to explain what happened when she was 3 years old. Eric and Sarah publish an underground paper in their high school; the paper’s name, “Crispy Pork Rinds,” alludes to the fact that Sarah is burnt and disfigured and that Eric is a pig. Along the way there are sufficient characters to make the plot very exciting, but the “young adult” label on this book takes away a great deal from it. For example, there are no redeeming qualities to any of the adults in the story, even the teacher that helps out and Eric’s mom or her live-in boyfriend. The end of the novel is quite predictable (assuming the reader can be attentive to the foreshadowing in the plot).

I started reading Joan Didion’s “The Last Thing He Wanted,” and I am totally lost. The third person omnipresent narrator goes back and forth—past, present, not quite present, not quite past forms are part of the course in this plot that is leading nowhere. There are so many changes in the narrative point of view that it is enough to dizzy the best of readers. The characters are, so far, atrocious. This is definitely Didion’s worst effort as a writer (at least in my opinion, and the opinion of those reviewing at Amazon). Of course I will finish reading it, but not before I start reading something else as this would be my third attempt at reading more than one book at a time. I haven’t decided what to read next, since I am still giving Didion a chance on this one as it is quite too early to tell. We’ll see. I am seeing the pile of books for this year starting to go down—that’s quite satisfying

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