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

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Gaining access to another's counsciousness is not the same as gaining access to the mundane details of another's daily life

The problem w/ William McPherson's 1984 novel, Testing the Current, is that though there may be current there's no testing. I'm almost half-way through this long autobiographical fiction - the "coming of age" story of a sensitive young man born into a prosperous, insular WASP community in the mid-West in the alte 1930s - and nothing has happened. McPherson has an abundant recollection of childhood detail, but a compendium of detail does not constitute a novel. We get long sections that describe such events as the family Thanksgiving dinner, replete with every dish served, all the songs sung, toasts made, snippets of "grown-up" conversation that the protagonist, Tommy, overhears, many moments when he knows there's some hidden significance to a remark that he can't quite make out (of course the adult author and all readers know more than Tommy). I would guess the Proust is McPherson's guiding spirit - we even have a "death of beloved grandmother" scene and a scene on being put to bed while the adults still carouse downstairs, two seminal scenes in Proust's Search - but unlike Proust McPh never develops these scenes or moments into any particular insight or narrative development. This is like looking through an enormous family album, which may interest you if it's your family but otherwise what's the point? I've said many times in these posts that one reason we read is to gain access to the consciousness of another, and this novel presents test case of that belief: It shows me that to gain access to the tedious details of another's daily life is not the same thing as gaining access to another's consciousness. Yes, I accept that all of these recollections are accurate and, to the author, meaningful, and for a time I was hoping for the best, hoping that McPh was laying a groundwork from which a story would emerge and thrive, but half-way through I'm afraid that it's all groundwork, meaningful to him but not to others.

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