I've been reading an awful lot of books lately, but not finishing many. I thought I'd spend this post chatting about just the beginnings of a few of them...
An Arsonist's Guide To Writers' Homes in New England starts marvelously. I borrowed a copy from my store and read it during two lunch breaks, and I found it funny and smart: the narrator, who somehow managed to burn down Emily Dickinson's house as a teenager, rebuilds his life, but his past comes back to haunt him. He's a little bit unreliable. I was enjoying it so much I actually bought it in hardcover. But when I brought it home and started reading again, the plot was suddenly implausible and the writing leaden: so many sentences about walking from one place to another. I had no interest in finishing! I gave it to John and he had the same experience. Dang! It was so good at first.
The Keep by Jennifer Egan -- I think Jennifer Egan has the perfect career, don't you? She's about my age (or looks it) and could win a prize OR end up on the bestseller list, either one! This novel is about some American men wandering in and around an eastern European castle with satellite phones. I never figured out why. I felt like I had to read an awful lot to get that far. It's true, I'm an undisciplined reader, but I do plan on getting back to The Keep some day. I'm sure it gets better.
The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant is really quite wonderful -- all of the writing is carefully brilliant. Sentence after sentence is marvelous: "The furniture was their own, yet the place looked like a furnished room. Even the family photograph on the dark, clubfooted table had the quality of a hotel-room reproduction. There were things that Norman did not want to know." The rhythms are a little odd and like that of a young writer still not totally confident, and it reminds me of that really early Roth novel, Letting Go, which was published at almost the same time. I only just started this one, and haven't yet found a solid two hours to sink into it and become fully engaged, but I will.
I scored a galley of All the Sad Young Literary Men (to be published in April) by Keith Gessen, apparently of the magazine n+1, which apparently hates bloggers. I say apparently because I get all this stuff from other blogs. What kind of craziness is this? There's a chapter or two about some New York writery types, then suddenly inserted is a chapter about Al Gore's daughter going to college with someone. I can't tell with whom, because the point of view changes from third to first -- who are you? It is all extraordinarily difficult to follow and also, possibly, the most claustrophobic thing I have ever read. It's a bit like listening to someone go on and on and on at a graduate student party. Do you want to read about Ivy Leagueish aspiring writers and their sex lives? I didn't think so.