Sunday, July 23, 2006

what I'm reading

This morning I neglected poor Lucy (I did make her the breakfast of her choice, and I did clap when she made up a song, so it wasn't all Living in Neglectville) to finish "Lost and Found" by Carolyn Parkhurst. I almost didn't pick up this book at the library, because it seemed too light: it's set in a reality show, a la "The Amazing Race." I love "The Amazing Race", but I don't necessarily want to read reality show novels. But! I loved this book so much that I may buy it; I'll want to re-read it at some point. I loved her cynical but loving approach to reality show contests; I adored her flawed characters.

Parkhurst writes from the point of view of different contestants on the show, and her one mother character perfectly voices what motherhood is like:

"No one else ever loves you the way your children do when they're young. No one else will ever cry when you leave the room. I try not to spend too much time thinking about those days, because I know they're perfect only in memory, and I know I need to focus on the girl I've got in front of me right now. But sometimes I can't help but give in to it... To remember what it was like, back when she smiled just to see me, when she needed my help to move a spoon to her mouth or to walk down a flight of steps. Back when she had to reach up to hold my hand. Back when she thought I could turn on the sky....

During the first week after we brought her home, I remember saying to my husband, 'I love her, but I don't know if I love her enough.' It was a terrifying thing to me to be responsible for this child, unfathomable and fragile, with all her squalling need. I was scared to be alone with her. I didn't know how I was going to carry out this job I'd taken on, the raising of this new person. It seemed too great a task. . . . I don't know what it's like for other women, women with calmer temperaments and vast inner resources; for me, it was very hard. I knew how mothers were supposed to be, and I knew I wasn't holding my own. A mother isn't supposed to cry because the baby keeps kicking off her socks; she's not supposed to feel utterly defeated by the task of clipping minuscule fingernails. She's certainly not supposed to stand over the crib in the middle of the night and say, as I once did when we'd been awakened four different times in three hours, 'I hate the fucking baby.'"

So there you have it: the utter, mindroasting high of the complete love and need you get from your baby, but the horrible feelings of inadequacy and stress, especially in those dark, sleepless nights. And for those of you not so interested in reading about motherhood, other chapters feature gay sex, the art of the Swedish subway system, violence, and the politics of reality television.

Before this, I read David Housewright's "Pretty Girl Gone." I liked "Tin City", and this one was entertaining enough, but I spotted the ending a mile away. It's irritating when you read a book with a protagonist who's allegedly brilliant, and he can't see the obvious clues screaming out at him. Also, Housewright's dialogue is incredibly clunky. Can you imagine the retired cop who would deliver this speech:

"Have either of you ever stopped to look at this painting? You've probably passed it a thousand times, but have you ever taken a moment to really look at it? The lines, the blending of color, the woeful expression on the ballerina's face? Critics didn't like the ballerinas that Degas painted. They said he was vulgar and cruel. But he was neither. It's just that while everyone else at the time was painting dancers in all their resplendent glory, Degas wanted to capture them offstage, catch them when they were worn down by tedious tryouts and exhausting rehearsals. He wanted to show us the pain they endured, the suffering that went into their art. Perhaps he thought it would help us to appreciate them more."

To make it even worse, the retired cop delivers that speech while he is being abducted at gunpoint.

In contrast, I recently read Tim Parks' "Rapids", and that book's glory was the dialogue. Parks's characters spoke just like people do in real life, which is so hard for any author to do. He beautifully captured the painful-to-listen-to, overly cheery cant of a group leader speaking to a bunch of itchy, hormonal adolescents. He had down the tring-to-be-funny-and-failing thing of a teenaged boy trying to impress girls and come off as edgy and daring, but instead coming across as an awkward geek. I hated the ending, but the dialogue made the book a joy to read.


Freewheel said...

Nice reviews. I'm reading some non-fiction I can't get through. Maybe I'll move on to your recommendation.

Pointybird said...

Holy shit, that IS terrible dialogue! Do some novelists never listen to people speaking?