Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,

novels of the month

Three weeks ago, I picked up four novels.

It had been months since I'd sought out a new novelist. Now that I think of it, I haven't read much fiction in the '00s.

I'm extremely taken by these novels, each in their own way.

Pagan Kennedy's The Exes (1998), summary: a simple story about love colliding with rock-and-roll: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy starts a band with girl...

"We'll have the gossip factor," Lilly, the vocalist, tells her ex-boyfriend Hank, the band's guitarist. "People are going to go nuts trying to figure out how ex-boyfriends and -girlfriends can stand to be around each other enough to be in a band -- that will make us instantly intriguing." And in the rock world that Kennedy creates, they do become intriguing. With another broken couple -- Shaz and Walt -- on bass and drums, the Boston-based Exes get the "buzz" they hoped for and a small taste of success. By avoiding gimmicks, Kennedy comes up with a breezy work that is a knowing and smartly conceived examination of relationships in general, which can be as uplifting as a Motown drum fill or as clumsy as a teenager's first attempt at bar chords.

But Kennedy's finest passages uncover the emotions the band members go through, stripping off their poses and gas station-attendant jackets to reveal their insecurities. Lilly, talented and slightly neurotic, struggles to understand Shaz, a bisexual Pakistani who fears success, and is thrilled when she makes a breakthrough. "You couldn't tie her to you with heavy ropes; you had to use hundreds of spiderwebs instead. You had to sew her to you with invisible thread and a needle made of glass."

Kennedy puts a fresh face on those clich�s. What Nick Hornby did for the insufferable record geek in "High Fidelity," Kennedy does for the touring rock musician: makes him (and her) real and layered. It offers a basic 4/4 beat, something you can groove to, but underneath is a lovely swirl of counter-melodies and sounds that are unfamiliar but engaging. (salonmag)
The Exes is surprisingly similar to The Unbearable Lightness of Being in its styles of internal dialogue in sexual relationships.

Philip Roth's Deception (1990), excerpt:

"He did not fuck her the way you fucked her, for her stories. He fucked her for fucking. You are more interested in listening than in fucking, and Olina is not that interesting to listen to. She is even less interesting to listen to than to fuck."

"I never fucked Olina."

"You're lying to me, my friend."

"She's lying to you, if it's she who told you."

"You fucked her four times. In New York. When we were all such good friends after I arrived from Prague."

"Not even once, Ivan."

"Other men listen patiently as part of the seduction leading up to the fuck. That is why men usually talk to women -- to get them into bed. You get them into bed to talk to them. Other men let them begin their story, then when they believe they have been sufficiently attentive, they gently press the moving mouth down on the erection. Olina told me about you. She repeated it a couple times. She said, 'Why does he keep asking these irritating questions? It is not emotionally conventional to ask so many questions. Do all Americans do this?' "

"Ivan, enough of whatever this is. None of it is true."

"With the nigger it's his prick and with the Jew it's his questions. You are a treacherous bastard who cannot resist a narrative even from the wife of his refugee friend. The stronger the narrative impulse in her, the more captivated you are. And all of this, I must tell you, limits you not only as a friend but as a novelist."

"So my books stink too."

"Play dumb if you like, but you know the truth. You only enter into life to keep the conversation going. Even sex is really at the edge. You are driven not by eros -- you are not driven by anything. Only by this boyish curiosity. Only by this gee-whiz naivete. Here are people -- women -- who do not live life as material but live it soulfully. And for you the more soulful the better. You like it best when they are in posttraumatic shock trying to recover their lives, like Olina fresh from Prague. You like it best when these soulful women can't actually tell their own tales but struggle for access to their story. That is the erotica of it for you. The exotica too. Every woman a fuck, every fuck a Scheherazade. They have not been able to gain access to their story and in the telling of their story there is a kind of compulsion to complete the life -- and their is much pathos in this. Of course it is stirring; just the wash of their sound, the quality of intimate conversation, to you is stirring. What is stirring is not necessarily in the stories but in their urge to make the stories. The undevelopedness, the unplottedness, what is merely latent, that is actuality, you are right. Life before the narrative takes over is life. They try to fill with their words the enormous chasm between the act itself and the narrativizing of it. And you listen and rush to write it down and then ruin it with your rotten fictionalizing."

"How so exactly?"

"Yes, you would expect me to help you perfect your lousy art, you would want to talk about literature, you shitface, having helped yourself to my wife!"

"Cast it in the form of an insult if that makes it more fun. In your eyes, as a writer, what do I do wrong? Tell me..."
The whole novel comes only in dialogue like this. As usual, I added the boldface. Italics, profanity are original. Typing it just now, I almost cut an inflammatory phrase or two above -- but I chose to keep the author's intended flow.
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