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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The (Agonizing) Sorrows of an American, by Siri Hustvedt, part 001

I keep telling myself, "there's nothing wrong with this novel, there's nothing wrong with this novel." The reason, if I have any at all, is the fact that I loved "What I Loved," and "A Plea for Eros" so much it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to realize I am reading the same author. "The Sorrows of an American" is a confusing labyrinth of characters and voices, temporal abstractions (not the ones italicized), and shifts within the plot (more than just a plot within the plot). All of this combined makes this novel a valiant effort, but an effort nonetheless.

If Ms. Hustvedt tried to exercise her knowledge of the surreal in writing, she has succeeded without parallel. The problem stems from the fact that the average reader (myself) does not read exclusively for surrealism, with or without specific order. Now, Ms. Hustvedt is married to Mr. Paul Auster, and despite risking making an unfair connection or allusion, I have to say that I somehow can digest his surrealism but not Ms. Hustvedt. Having said that, I tried and tried and tried to get into the story, to think through the events and study carefully the abstractions. One thing that also made it difficult for me was my inability to recognize a "flashback" versus what Ms. Hustvedt seems to be attempting. Firstly, there's the question of the narrator/protagonist. It takes a great effort to discern that the person "talking to us" is a man. I suspect that the first sentence has something to do with the general sense of the novel: "My sister called it 'the year of secrets'" and from there the first fifteen pages are filled with family details, secrets, the recent loss of a patriarch, letters from his/her father to a lover no one knew about, and an excellent display of Norwegian phrases and how the do not translate well literally into English. I understand that a novel whose premise is a "year of secrets" would eventually resemble this narrative form, but it's nearly impossible to 1) hold the emotional tension a secret helps develop (sort of the holding of the breath), and 2) follow all the shifts in direction, voice, etc.

I will nevertheless recommend Ms. Husdvedt's work, "The Sorrows of an American" included. Reading this novel made me realize my deficiencies in understanding the variants and complexities of fiction writing. Heck, I can't even write intelligently about it.

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At 4:21 AM, Blogger Simona Ardelean said...

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