Saturday, September 8, 2012
Author: Jess Walter
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 100 (slower to reach 100 than in 2010 or 2011)
So I was sitting here at my kitchen table, thinking about how this book was more of a 4.5 star read than either a four or a five, and while I was deciding whether to be stingy or generous, I went over to Goodreads to borrow a picture. Up popped my friend Angela's review, and she gave it a five and said, "Okay, so maybe a 4.5 . . . but I liked it enough to round up." So in deference to Angela, one of the smartest readers and writers I know, I will follow suit.
I spent two years in an MFA program, and one of the things we did as grad students was try out new techniques. We messed with POV, with mixing up genres, with nonlinear storylines, with revealing important information late in the game of the story. Lots and lots of times, those techniques felt more like experiments than like integral parts of the story. In other words, we usually failed. It often felt like we were saying, "look at this cool trick" and ignoring the story itself. Last year's Pulitzer Prize novel, Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, is a prime example of a book with a lot of technique but very little heart.
Walter manages to use all of the techniques (he incorporates the entire script of a play, for example, into the novel), but I was so engrossed by the story that I barely noticed. I think that's how it should be. I realize that I've said almost nothing about the story itself, but it's kind of difficult to sum up the complex plot. It all starts with an actress who has been working on the set of Antony and Cleopatra in Italy in 1962, who gets sent to a tiny fishing village while the producer figures out how to solve the problem of her pregnancy. From there, the story spans more than 50 years, several continents, and many different narrators, before doubling back to the smarmy producer, and the inkeeper and the actress, who fall in love and remain that way even though five decades pass without them seeing each other.