Before I start in on my latest reading escapade, a confession: I bailed on a novel recently. Or, more accurately, I bailed on one finally.
This does not make me feel good. I feel, in fact, like a damn failure. Even though I now agree that parachuting out of a book is OK — there’s a lot of reading to be done out there, and a lot of enjoyment to be had from it; no use staying with a book that you don’t like — I feel like I wasn’t smart enough for this particular read. Intellectually, I feel right now like I should stick to Dr. Seuss.
I’m even a little leery of revealing the name of the paperback that kicked my butt; it might make me look weak. Lots of other people liked this novel. According to the blurbs in the front of the book, it was filled with fresh ideas. It was, says Kirkus Reviews, a “dizzyingly-high-concept debut of genuine originality.”
But, boy, I couldn’t fight through it.
I tried. I really did. I ended too many nights with the book open on my chest, my mouth drying out and my neck crying for the Icy Hot. At some point I distinctly remember telling myself that I was going to finish this damn book no matter what.
Clearly, I lied to myself. Not the first time. Not the first time this year.
When I finally threw my hands up for good, I had made it about halfway through. After weeks of reading, I was halfway through a maybe 250-page paperback. I just couldn’t do it. (Cue Dana Carvey.)
The limited characters, at the point I pulled out, were not particularly lively or funny or compelling. They were, as I saw it, kind of boring. Still, I was willing to stick around until the story turned a little more interesting.
The problem, outside my general disinterest in the characters: Parts of this book — at least parts of the part that I read — were just so maddeningly and unnecessarily thick that the whole process turned unmanageable.
A single passage stood out for me in which the protagonist, during a flashback, was taking an oral exam while in elevator inspection school. I earmarked the bit, planning to copy it down, but once I decided to bail, I couldn’t get the book out of the house quickly enough.
I found a tad of the exchange between student and teacher thanks to google. In it, our heroine is, in agonizing depth, answering one of the instructor’s questions.
To be fair, this excerpt is not representative of the whole book. Judging the book on that snippet alone is patently wrong.
And, yes, maybe the author thought this kind of narrative was necessary for setting, for the general feel of the story. Maybe the author had other plans for this; maybe there’s some Easter Egg that plays a critical part later in the book. (Which, if it does, well, I wouldn’t know.)
But here’s what I was thinking even as I read this paragraph: Too much. If it’s important to the plot, I’m not going to remember all this. If just a bit of it is important … I’m still not going to remember. If it serves as a further scene-setter, as a means of drawing the reader into the story, I’m just not compelled to go there.
I don’t care. Not after that.
Yes, that’s unfair. Any good story has its background to lay, its scenes to set, its mood to create. But that passage is an absolute excess of exposition, and whether that’s true of the entire book — I can’t think it is though, considering I bailed, I don’t know for sure — that’s how I felt when I finally, mercifully called it; that the story was just going to go on and on and on and on and on like that, a lot of words signifying nothing, or at least nothing that interested me. I didn’t get it. I pulled the cord.
[The novel is a 1999 mystery/parable of sorts, The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead.]
I feel bad that I’ll never know what happened to Lila Mae, the heroine of Whitehead’s debut novel. I’m fairly certain that I missed out on some awesome metaphor for race or race relations in our society. I’m probably worse off for not fighting all the way through.
But then … I picked up another book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, the same day I shoved The Intuitionist into the return slot at my local library (Whitehead, BTW, went on to win a Pulitzer with another novel). I breezed through my new pickup in just a few days. Enjoyed it. Got it, too, I think. I’m feeling better.
That new one is a story worth talking about. But because this post has run long enough, that’ll have to wait for another entry …