Tuesday, August 07, 2007

annoying best-selling fiction and amazing semi-obscure stuff

My mother gave me a Jodi Picoult novel, which was timely enough as I keep hearing about Ms. Picoult's works. I was sucked into "Vanishing Acts" immediately, but now by page 156 I'm thoroughly annoyed and ready to quit. Ms. Picoult writes beautifully in the manner of a graduate student in creative writing, but she has no sense of dialogue. Her shtick, in this book at least (I must give her the credit to assume her other works may be different) seems to be to set up an interesting situation which already occurred, and then write in her different character's voices to tell us all what they think about what already happened. There isn't really much action, just people thinking about stuff that already happened, and they all sound alike and fake, like they all happen to be taking the same creative writing workshop. Be they alcoholic litigators, old men, or young mothers, they all sit around mulling things over with the same sorts of beautiful cliches.

Here's just one example of how Ms. Picoult annoys me to death: Eric, our recovering alcoholic lawyer, is representing his fiance's father in a criminal matter, but he's interrupted by a message that his little girl is sick. Rather than just pick up the phone and call his fiance, he stops to ponder pretentiously. "I have a feeling this isn't the last time I will be asked to choose between Delia's present life and her past." Oh, please, why is HIS LITTLE CHILD'S FEVER "Delia's present life"? And why all the sturm und drang over returning a personal call in amongst representing one client and one client only? (To be fair, Eric does have one other potential client, a redneck who's concerned about the legal status of his pet crow, but that client seems to obligingly step out of the picture when Eric hysterically runs out of their initial meeting without a word of explanation).

So should I suck it up for another 253 pages of this poetic dreck, or move on? I can't understand a world where Ms. Picoult is a bestseller and my new literary darling, whose baby I would gladly have if we weren't both married to other people and if I weren't so prone to overwhelmingly traumatic morning sickness, Antoine Wilson, can't even get his book out in hardback. People, I implore you: seek out Antoine Wilson's brilliant "The Interloper" and shun the banal bestsellers.

I went to some trouble to find "The Interloper" after reading a one paragraph rave review in the New Yorker, and it did not disappoint for a minute. I cannot understand why this went straight to paperback, when it is so gripping and unusual. It's very hard to believe this is a first book; it's just so perfect.

"The Interloper" is a gem in the "unreliable narrator" genre, right up there with the astonishing "The Debt to Pleasure" by John Lanchester. Here's how our unlikely hero introduces himself:
"My name is Owen Patterson. I am thirty-eight years old. I am in fine shape medically and psychologically. I have been checked out on both counts. Despite my being far away from her, and my not having talked ot her for several months now, I remain married to Patricia Patterson, nee Stocking. We have no children. I consider myself a civilized person, probably around 80% acclimated ot the society in which I lived, if not more. A solid B. I miss working for the software company. Life had a nice routine to it. Software manuals are pleasingly logical when written right, and we used to write them right. If I could wake up from this bad dream, I would wake up in my cubicle at the software company, face creased from the edge of a binder, and ask mouth-breathing Neil, in the next cubicle over, if he wanted to get some coffee downstairs."
Owen struggles to deal with his wife's sorrow after her brother is brutally murdered. The book tells the story of his imaginative attempt to seek revenge upon the jailed killer, a quixotic attempt to restore his wife's happiness which ends up taking over Owen's life.

Unlike Ms. Picoult, Antoine Wilson has a genius for dialogue. His characters all speak in their own voices, even the dead brother who leaves a frat-boy journal behind. I stayed up one night reading the whole book, and I'm sure I'll go back and re-read this again and again. I love "The Interloper" and can't wait to see Mr. Wilson's next work.

Another first-time author amazed me this summer, Lee Vance, a former Wall Street hotshot, wrote a thriller, "Restitution." Vance is amazingly good at creating a likeable but flawed main character whose life suddenly falls apart when his estranged wife is murdered. Like Wilson, Vance is surprisingly good at believable characters and dialogue for a first-time writer. "Restitution" is well worth a read; I ripped through it in a day because I couldn't stand to put it down. I loved it up until the end, where Mr. Vance seemed to have run out of ingenuity and fell back on that old cliche, the chatty villain who explains it all. Mr. Vance's evil genius could well have said, just as the tiny villain of "The Incredibles did, "You sly devil, you've got me monologuing!"

So: "The Interloper", "Restitution", and that older work of genius, "The Debt to Pleasure": wonderful works which bring so many hours of transported reading. Ms. Jodi Picoult's "Vanishing Acts": not even a feh, it's more of a meh. Happy reading, my darlings.

11 comments:

hughman said...

these don't sound like books i would seek out. i'm still trying to make it through "son of a witch", the sequel to "wicked" which i loved.

blah blah blah... "my darlings".

you had me at "my".

the Drunken Housewife said...

Have you read "The Debt to Pleasure"? I assure you, you would LOVE it.

Michelle said...

I came across your blog when randomly searching for Elizabeth Wurtzel. I love it! I can relate to a lot of it (living in California, two daughters, previously hectic career, drunken housewife... oh, wait...). So glad I found it.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Welcome, Michelle! I'm so glad you found me & introduced yourself!

Chelseagirl said...

I enjoyed only one of Jodi's books...I agree with your description of her writing. It's annoying to me!

I do enjoy the murder/mystery genre and have several favorite authors there. I'll have to check out the ones you listed!

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sarangkot said...

The Debt to Pleasure is fabulous and I'm glad you like it too.

Melissa said...

Well, as I'm indebted you to for the Trudeau Vector (great read!) and the introduction to Ian Rankin, I put The Interloper on my short list as well.

the Drunken Housewife said...

sarangkot, since you loved "The Debt To Pleasure", you might really enjoy "The Interloper." Look for it! (Also, pass on your suggestions if you like).

Chelseagirl, also please feel free to leave some book suggestions in the comments. I like to find some new authors.

Susan said...

So happy to see new book suggestions. My book club had two bad reads in a row and I am looking for something to take the bad taste out of my brain. And just so it helps - I found The Interloper on Amazon.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I should clarify that "The Interloper" is available at all the online retailers, Amazon, Powells, etc... I just like to patronize my local independent bookstores, and sad to say, the ones I stopped by didn't have "The Interloper", so I picked up a copy at Borders. You can all buy it online with great ease.