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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, March 1, 2016

Terrific writing from Atticus Lish - but will it work as a novel?

On recommendation of lifelong friend DC who has excellent taste in all the arts (meaning we agree mos of the time) am reading Preparations for the Next Life, debut novel by Atticus Lish, son of the great editor/teacher Gordon Lish (a true gentleman and kind soul, from all I know) - but Lish Jr. has certainly made his own mark here. About half-way through the first of three sections of this fairly long novel - it's tough going at times but there is some truly extraordinary writing in the opening segments of the novel, essentially from four different settings, following two characters - a Chinese immigrant woman, probably mid-20s, of non-Chinese ethnic background, apparently from a Muslim community in a desert climate, with perhaps a relocation in or near Tibet?, a little hard to tell, but we mostly see her life in the U.S. at least at first, the incredibly difficult struggle immigrants live through trying to get a job, get a foothold, learn the language and culture, at everyone's mercy - very powerful writing that has the complete ring of authenticity (how does Lish know all of this stuff, seemingly from the inside?); the other character a mid-20s guy back from service in Iraq, clearly still suffering from shock and trauma, but afforded no treatment, welcome, or services to speak of - and his life, on arrival in Manhattan, hitched up from Virginia it seems, is almost equally harrowing - Lish gets that down, too, as well as a war scene in Iraq the equal of any recent mideast war novel or film. So there's a lot of tremendous writing, scene after scene, page after page, but ultimately this novel will live or die depending on whether the many scenes come together into a narrative - I do find myself skimming even this fine writing at times, looking for plot elements that can guide me, it's obvious that the two characters will get together - and though I'm by no means saying this novel should be reduced to just plot, it's much more than just a screenplay, as so many novels seem to be these days, but if he doesn't engage the plot gears soon the book will feel more like tour de force - one powerful scene after another - rather than a great novel. Hoping for the latter, I will read on.

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