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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bernard Malamud - The Fixer

With this book, I am now over the 50% completed mark for Books Read. For now my pages completed lacks behind considerably as I have read most of the shortest books on the list which is troubling for the completion of this project. It took me until I was over twenty novels in to develop the statistics aspect of the project, and that is concerning because I didn't keep track of the page lengths I was dealing with and that led to me working against myself in finishing this project quickly. The longer the book, especially some of the ones I am not excited about reading, the harder it is for me in my reading disposition to finish. I read slowly, as has been exhaustively noted here, and the longer the book the slower I work. This fact results in fewer finishes and more frustration with the duration of this project. But now is a time for celebration though, that I have turned a corner and have now reached that 50% mark that which I had previously thought unachievable for a long time.

So now on to Malamud's winner, The Fixer. The first thing that surprised me about this book was that it is the only Pulizter winner that I have read so far that has been based entirely outside of America. There are some winner that the main characters are from other countries, and travel out of the US. But Malamud sets this novel in Pre-Revolution Russia, specifically in Kiev, what we now call Ukraine. Malamud's main character Yakov Bok is a Jewish peasant from a Russian community to house peasant, and he travels to Kiev for work. There is entrapped for a murder he didn't commit, and forced into prison to live out a sentence-less sentence until he arrives for his trial. He suffers through 2 and a half years in prison unsure of his fate. Knowing the evidence against him is false, he has hope that truth will prevail. Bok knows the time and place he lives in, and the merciless slaughter of Jews in recent years, killing his parents actually and making him out to be an orphan, decidedly goes against his notion of a fair trial. So Bok sits. Bok goes insane. Bok freezes and eats filth and suffers for seemingly no reason at all other than the unbridled hate and superstition of the Russian people.

Malamud is a superb writer. Malamud writes with power as if this happened to him and he is retelling it to you through Bok. I find his voice to be true and transparent. There is nothing fabricated in his environment down to the stove in the room, what the walls look like. What cockroach ridden cabbage soup tastes like. It is a perfect setting. You believe everything he is telling you and you look for clues, the seams in his descriptions that might betray him but there are none there. Malamud keeps you reeling from his powerful prose and exceptional pacing. This is a titan work of American fiction. Everyone should read this book, and everyone no matter what stripe or state you are in will enjoy it thoroughly. Malamud addresses so so much in this book, Jewish/Christian conflict which spill into the base nature of all people for all time. It is an amazing feat that Malamud winds you through this novel. Forcing you to answer his questions. What is truth? What is duty? What would you do the wiser now for having read this work? Malamud is a writer amongst writer.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jeffery Euginides - Middlesex

I just wanted to start this post by saying, admitting to all of you readers out there, that I cried at the end of this book. Over the course of the exhaustive reading, there are time that I probably haven't given a book it due justice. I can admit that here, in saying, that when this reading list has become a competition between Drew and I, I focus on the goal. This goal-oriented approach helps me to get through some of the less appealing books, but possibly, I have overlooked and not spent enough time with some of the better books on the list. There have been several times over the course of this list that I have felt totally lost in a novel, and Euginides' Middlesex is one of them. I love this book. I was lost in his narrative, completely lost, ready for whatever it was that he was bringing to me next. Thirsty I would say for the next page, paragraph, scene, or chapter. I am careful to say that, as if one could consider this a page turner, I wouldn't go that far. It wasn't a thriller, there were moments where it dragged, just a little bit. I say that with the utmost respect, I really truly do. There is not a lot that I can find at fault with this novel, a subtle portion of pacing perhaps, and it pains me even to offer this slight criticism.

Euginides is a master of fiction. He knows it, and unlike as I have mentioned before Cunningham, he doesn't lord it over you. Euginides trusts his reader and that would make me cautious to recommend this book to the novice fiction fan. It can be a hard read at times. But to his more seasoned fan of fiction this book is a marvel of literary allusions with seeming effortlessness, this has to be mentioned any time there is a reference to T.S. Eliot's Wasteland. Euginides is a master. Again, not as pedantic as Cunningham at times to use every little piece he introduces until it is beating you over the head, Euginides weaves it through carefully. Chapter 11 is an amazingly crafted metaphor throughout the novel. AMAZING! I laughed out loud when I figured out, as he was saying it, what the reference was to. It was fantastic. There is too much in this novel to reduce in a short review like this, to make mention a few things.

The subject matter of this novel is difficult for me to get attached to. I have no experience whatsoever and as the casual observer of this phenomenon in our society, I have to say that I come to this novel having formed no conclusions about transgender and related topics. So coming into this subject matter, I didn't know what to expect and how my upbringing and current worldview would shut me off to this novel. Euginides destroys those notions and opens you to understand this character fully. Euginides brings within his scope all of the human and American experience. I was constantly reminded of Chabon as Euginides was introducing so many subplots dizzying the careful reader to keep track of the important events. But unlike Chabon and Cunningham, Euginides doesn't embarrass you with their ambition. I felt an overwhelming careful precision to Euginides writing that less careful, more - I offer considerately - 'confident' author's might not take the time to carefully construct. This novel, and Euginides writing gives me something to aspire to - precision. Plain and simple, that is what Euginides perfectly exemplifies - precision. He executes his character development, his seamless transition, his plot devices, his dialogue, everything churning toward and improbable but overwhelmingly believable, fitting, and perfect ending. Chabon and Cunningham represent a very common literary, artistic figure to me. Writers that assume so much talent, so much artistic prowess that often they overlook the simple steps one needs to take to humbly submit their art to a critical audience. They assume a lot of confidence in their abilities that sometimes some editing and hard work would have worked out some of the hard edges that a critical eye will find and find fault in. They are unbelievable writers in their own right, Pulitzer Prize winners, but I believe that the reason for the prize as I have great respect for, is the sheer ability of the writing. There is a lot of forgiveness for over-confidence and maybe not as tightly spun writing when they can command their styles and art as they do. Euginides does all of that. Euginides's writing is gorgeous, but he combines that with razor-sharp precision. I love it.

This novel did everything that you would want an epic novel of its caliber to do, everything. It is in my humble appraisal as near a perfect novel as I have ever read.