10.25.2009

Divining Women by Kaye Gibbons

I finished Divining Women by Kaye Gibbons last night. Coming on the heels of the Roth, this one was supposed to have been an easy read, with entertaining and engaging characters. And, I suppose all that was true, but it wasn't particularly good. Several times in the reading of the thing, I would flip back thinking I had missed something, but I hadn't. It is just disjointed. The characters are interesting, but they are not well-developed. The title implies that the women in Mary's life (her mother and grandmother) will be crucial to her self-hood, and they were; we just didn't see any of that development. It happens before the book opens. The relatively small amount of time we spend with those important women does not reveal enough of their strength to explain the title. The narrator (Mary) is physically formless, and she could as easily be 50 as 20. Maureen is physically described in detail, but her development as a character is shadowy. Troop is the most complex character - well-drawn and complete in his evil. In fact, I feel like we understand Troop's mother better than we do the other women in this piece.

I did like this sentence: "I associated the silence in the homes of some of the Sun and Moon Girls I visited with a poverty much more frightening than having no money to buy pretty things" (32).

I also appreciated (although I felt Gibbons' lack of humility in it) the bonus passage in the back where she responds to a question about whether she was surprised by her success. It is the kind of thing I wish my students understood, but if they did, they would all be published novelists, I suppose. She says, "If a writer is any good, he or she will criticize himself so unmercifully that the reader and the reviewer either have to be misguided or wrong to make too much of a complaint." The unmerciful criticism part is true, but the rest of the sentence is what shows off her hubris. To assume that what she loves about her writing must necessarily be universally acknowledged as good is unbelievably pompous. But the sentiment is dead on. I also like when she says she does not appreciate "the disrespect for this gift of language and for the people we're offering it to" that some writers seem to have. Finally, she says, "You see, I love what I do. I raise three human beings, and I do language for a living - it's only as terrifying as it is lovely." That's well put.

10.04.2009

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

It took me a good week to read the last 25 pages of this book. I think that sums it about up.

Joking aside, this book has been a conundrum to me. I haven't really enjoyed it, but it was thought-provoking; I didn't want to abandon it, but I was ready to be done with it almost as soon as I started. Ironic, then, about the extremely slow-going at the end. It was mostly due to me being too sleepy each night to sustain even a single page turn's worth of attention, but I know I've been just as tired at the end of more compelling books and managed to stay awake just to finish them. So.

There you have my introduction to the great master, Roth. I'm not giving up. There wasn't anything hard or particularly detestable about the book or the writing; there just also wasn't anything that changed me or moved me or even made me stand in awe of the talent. I'll give him another try at some point. Just not any point real soon.