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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Navel gazing: Kundera's latest NYer story

Seriously does anyone think that Milan Kundera's story The Apologizer would appear in print anywhere, let alone the current New Yorker, if it were not for the stature of the author? No doubt Kundera has written some great books, but, sadly, I think he has never written well about his life in France - it's sad and maybe sophomoric to say this but some writers need to be writers in opposition: Kundera wrote brilliantly and memorably about life in Eastern Europe under Soviet domination, his novels were full of struggle, irony, satire, wit, and sexuality - but once the wall fell, once he became a world-famous novel living first in exile and then in freedom - it's as if he had nothing to struggle against and therefore nothing left to say. (There may be exceptions, and I have by no means read extensively in his recent work.) But it's like: Othello's occupation's gone. Current NYer story case in point: a young man of indeterminate age speculates about the exposed flesh of various women passing him by on a Paris (?) street; his noticing a navel reminds him of the last time his mother saw him, when he was 10, emerging from a swimming pool, and she stared at this navel; this leads him to reflect on his mother's life - the most engaging section of the story in fact - as he recounts her suicide leap into a river, a man swimming out to rescue him, she struggles against him and drowns him, and then emerges from the river alive. This is a great premise! But what does Kundera do with this: he lets on that there's no factual basis, that the young man is just making up a narrative (much like a writer - we are caught in a postmodern hall of mirrors. Then he engages in a totally sophomoric conversation with a friend as to who to should apologize when two people bump into each other on the sidewalk. Is there some metaphor here, something about international diplomacy? Who knows. What we end up with is a story by a narrator who doesn't really want to tell a story, a story that has little hints of significance but just fizzles away to nothing in the end. OK - as w/ so many NYer fiction pieces, maybe this is not a story and maybe it's part of a longer piece that maybe develops into a lifelong search for the mother who'd abandoned the family many years ago - but if so why not just tell it instead of larding this piece with chilly pseudo-philosophy.

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