Notes on reading lists

Reasonable people understand fiction as a way of exploring life. Which explains why this category of people will not review Slumdog Millionaire. However, the obvious binary solution space of idiots who did and the rest who did not blurs a lot more when two accomplished story tellers are considered.

JM Coetzee and Philip Roth.

I do not know what it is that makes Roth American. His stories are set in Americana[1] but that is hardly a reason. So were Faulkner’s and Cheever’s and those never struck one as distinctly American. Maybe it’s his story arc that is simplistic or a world view that is self absorbed — not the characters’ but that of the author himself. Then there is the matter of prose, which is mostly very good and occasionally lazy. These are slips that most readers, and therefore I, forgive. What is jarring, I realized, is what she had nailed.

It’s not lazy prose but lazy fiction. Roth sometimes does not lend enough care to stay honest with all his characters. Like with Marcus Messner’s mother in Indignation. The otherwise wonderful book has the mother delivering a monologue of sorts to her son that is way beyond what a butcher’s wife would have said in the 50s. I was also let down a bit by the lazy prose in parts of Everyman that essentially stemmed from the author speaking for his characters.

Those two Roth books were separated in my reading order by JM Coetzee’s Slow Man. I’d agree this is not Coetzee’s best. Yet his command over lean prose made me realize something that Roth and therefore most American novelists lack. The matter-of-factness that is essential to lean prose is contributed to largely by the complexity of the society the author engages with. And grew up in. There is only so much a 300 year old society can mold a story teller into.

I loved Indignation despite Americana. It was my story, only set in a wrong place. I loved Slow Man even better. Made me want get a wife and procreate. Everyman made me worried about growing old before Slow Man had me planning for progeny. In all, women with money and a functioning uterus are invited.

[1] — I mean Americana to imply something slightly different from this. But you get that.

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