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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Amis' Inferno Ends -- Hustvedt's "What I Loved"

Martin Amis' "The Moronic Inferno" kept the straight shooter model throughout. He examines a Ronald Reagan campaign for president, as well as Stephen Spielberg, Joseph Heller, Joan Didion, Gloria Steinem, Hugh Hefner, plus an attack on political correctness and other American cultural elements that are ridiculously dated (remember I said this book is a collection of essays written in the early 1980s. All in all, the book was a nice read, but I don't recommend it unless you are trying to take a trip down amnesia lane.

"What I Loved" by Siri Hustvedt has been a literary tour de force. I believe this is the fastest I have read a book in my life, I think. I started yesterday morning and I am in page 256 of 364. The story takes place in New York City and it follows the life of four artists/academics as they struggle to make sense of their increasingly complicated world. Leo is the narrator and he is a professor of art history; his wife Erica is a literature professor at Rutgers. Leo's friend Bill starts out as a struggling artist, but becomes a highly respected modernist. Bill is married to Lucille but the marriage sours and he ends up divorcing and marrying Violet Blom instead. Violet had been Bill's model at one time. At any rate, both couples grow together, supporting each other through and through. Leo and Erica's son, Matthew, dies while away at camp, and they are all left to try and fulfill their parenthood at the expense of Bill and Lucille's son, Mark. There are around two or three different narratives going on at the same time and the book becomes undone while the lengthy descriptions of Bill's art pieces take place. Also, at the beginning, some of the expository seems forced. For example, "When we met, Erica was assistant professor in English at Rutgers, and I had already been teaching at Columbia in the art history department for twelve years. My degree came from Harvard, hers from Columbia..." All this seems a lot of information and breaks some of the narrative style she had established with Leo's voice. That, I believe, is the only drawback (it happens several times throughout) with the novel. It is, nevertheless, one of the most engrossing novels I have read in a long time; I can sit and read for hours and totally get lost in the narrative without a worry in the world. It's lyrical and full of passion.

I forgot to mention that Siri Hustvedt is married to Paul Auster. I picked up her book because I had read a terrible review of "A Plea for Eros," also by Siri Hustvedt, and wanted to know what the offense was. So far, no complains... but Paul Auster is still my favorite.

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At 1:52 PM, Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

You read such an interestingly wide variety of material! Your comment that one should read the essay collection unless a trip down amnesia lane was in order cracked me up.


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