web counter VISITORS SINCE JUNE, 2006

Monday, August 09, 2010

The (Agonizing) Sorrows of an American, by Siri Hustvedt, part 002

I mentioned earlier how much I wanted this novel to be good, to be excellent. I think I ended up putting the carriage before the horse. This novel was just about everything but good. If I may be humble, the reason behind my harsh review might just be my inability to understand the undercurrents of this novel. I love everything I have read from Siri Hustvedt, and I went into this book with high expectations. The problem for me was more of the same, the same of what I explained in the previous entry for this novel. I lost most of my time trying to figure out where and when had all the characters come in, or bailed out. The second half of the novel was a touch and go of subplots and retrospective visions that seemingly fell flat. The protagonist's relationship with Miranda, however, proves to be one of the best elements of the entire novel. While the protagonist, Erik Davidsen, is obviously erotically attracted to Miranda, his tenant/artist/friend, the suspense regarding their relationship is kept at growing expectations throughout. He "plays" family with Miranda and her daughter, Eggy. Miranda's ex-husband comes into the picture with stalker-like behavior. He collects several pictures of Erik which he later uses for a public exhibition of his work. I found it masterful the fact hat Hustvedt did not allow the relationship to reach the expected result that, at least for the reader, would have been convention. Miranda and Erik do not end up together.

Along with all of this, there is a trip to Minnesota (Erik's hometown) to try and find out details about his father's past. His companion on this trip is his sister, Inga, a character with her own set of particularly disturbing problems (widow to a "cult" like writer named Max). At any rate, in Minnesota they find a person who seemingly knows the past. The past for these Minnesotan women was being "told" in a series of homemade dolls--highly detail and lifelike albeit the size. Some of the dolls are for general consumption, but there are "pieces" called "The Legacy Pieces" that are not allowed to be viewed by anyone, not even the caretaker of the elderly woman who makes the dolls. Along with that sub-plot, there's another smaller sub-plot developing Erik's "no attachment" relationship to a longtime friend. While the relationship sub-plot is only touched lightly, these scenes appear cliche-ridden, and, most problematically, underdeveloped and drawing, not adding to the general plot. In addition, Inga and her daughter Sonia are fighting the release of letters written by Inga's late husband, a situation/problem that includes its own set of personae dramatis. This includes an old friend of both Inga and Erik, a poor man who suffers from hyperhidrosis, a restless reporter, a has-been movies star with whom Max had had an affair and fathered a son, and a hard, self-interest biographer of Max that ends up in bed with Inga.

In the last few segments of the novel, the flashback/fast-forward technique blurs the path to a satisfactory resolution, and the end, when it comes, feels anti-climatic.

Another reading of this novel would yield (perhaps in the future) a better understanding of what Hustvedt intended to do. Right now, I have to push forward with my reading list, and with the end of the summer session just a few days away, I cannot sit down to decipher the many issues herein.

Labels: ,

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home