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View Diary: Contemporary Fiction Views: A dispassionate view of too many deaths (10 comments)

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  •  Honesty time: I've never finished another (6+ / 0-)

    book by McCann (although I still hold out hope). That's been due more to trying to read too much at once than anything directly related to a book though.

    The setpiece of the transatlantic flight itself was well done. It was the part where it was easiest to keep disbelief suspended.

    There also was a short conversation toward the end where a new bride met her husband's relatives and they were more concerned about whether her ancestors were Catholic or Protestant than anything else. The dialogue in that was done well to show readers how deeply ingrained this kind of prejudice can be.

    Which leads to a tangent I don't feel qualified to discuss -- connecting the prejudices in this book to the Martin case. I've been heartsick over that for days.

    Thanks for letting me know how the essay worked for you. I fear I strayed too closely into spoilers territory but wanted to let people know why the book failed for me, so I didn't mislead anyone.

    •  I'll respond on 'TransAtlantic', and then put two (4+ / 0-)

      tangents in a second comment.

      It's hard, what you do, managing to review a new book every week. Hunting for epiphanies on a deadline. You keep it fresh and honest, you write clear and engaging reviews - so you're already winning at the job you set out to do. Thank you.

      Here are two paras from The Guardian's TransAtlantic review:

      Colum McCann is a very gifted, charming writer; in full, rhapsodic-onrush mode, he is hard to resist. He coins a good phrase. Pondering the vast gulf between the British and the Irish, Mitchell asks himself: "How did such a small sea ever come between them?" TransAtlantic is deft, well-crafted, and broad in its imaginative range. The many people who loved his last novel will certainly enjoy this one. And yet it is somehow less impressive than it ought to be.

      Stylistically, McCann leans very heavily on one particular syntactical formation, the sentence capped by two or more lilting verbless fragments, which comes to seem like a mechanical affectation. ("He will pause a moment, watching. Her hair askew. Her body long and slim and quiet against the sheets. The baby against her.") He also has a regrettable tendency towards sonorous potted history: "The Great War had concussed the world … Europe was a crucible of bones." More generally, in order to incorporate all its stories, the plot becomes a little contorted, its themes generalised: war versus peace, tolerance versus prejudice. The prevailing tone is, as a result, a bit official, sententious and uplifting, redolent of an extended St Patrick's Day speech by a gifted American politician. McCann dwells heavily on the positive Irish-American encounters, such as the inspiration that Douglass drew from Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, and downplays the more embarrassing ones. (We don't hear much, for example, about Douglass's belief that the famine was caused by intemperance.) It's hard to fault McCann's fine sentiments, but really memorable fiction requires a little more ambiguity – some more grit in the oyster.

      It's very easy to become the victim of your greatest success. I haven't read Let the Great World Spin. It got huge applause and was, by most accounts, a dazzling high-wire act. I wonder if McCann was feeling the pressure, internal and external, to perform an equally ambitious and breathtaking follow-up. And found one, but just didn't feel it as much as his last.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 05:45:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  First, thank you so much for the (5+ / 0-)

        compliments. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have such a close reader.

        I wonder if McCann, instead of or as well as, feeling the pressure, got carried away with developing that style the Guardian cites instead of storytelling. Also, I don't think it's possible to encapsulate anything about Ireland within the boundaries of one novel, so maybe he deliberately decided to give an overview rather than a penetrating look.

        •  Samuel Johnson said "Read over your compositions, (4+ / 0-)

          wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

          McCann may have been enchanted by his own charms. I guess we each need an Ezra Pound, to cut away our purple excesses. The great trick is to develop that voice internally.

          But McCann may have swooned a little over this whole project. From that same Guardian review:

          In 1845, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, born a slave and then still technically the chattel of a Maryland landowner, arrived in Ireland. He described his feelings in a stirring letter . . . It is obvious why this episode would appeal to Colum McCann, who left Dublin for New York aged 21 to write "the great Irish-American novel".

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 06:15:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Reviews with spoilers, & Trayvon Martin heartache (4+ / 0-)

      I wonder if I've been worrying too much about spoilers in reviews.

      Thomas Jefferson wrote a good piece ripping apart Presidential Prerogative, saying it had no place in good government. But once he was president, he went right ahead and bought Louisiana, without waiting for congressional approval. It was what worked.

      That's how I feel about spoilers, now that I see how hard it is to talk about books without giving some plot away. Yes, there are many creative ways around the problem. You can give the flavor of the book, without telling the story. But, mostly, as long as you're aware of the issue, and minimizing your spoilers, you're doing better than most reviewers. Some books are very hard to represent, without getting into the mechanics of how they run.

      The whole Trayvon Martin travesty. After watching all of Juror B37's interview with Anderson Cooper, and reading several blogs pointing out the holes and biases in what she said (especially the way she subscribes to a newspaper she "never reads" => she does read it, but wanted to be on the jury), I think she got it wrong on purpose - not realizing it, just through her own prejudice. But I'm sure there are plenty of other diaries all about this. Slate has a good piece by Dahlia Lithwick on it.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 06:03:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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