3135Books, no Pullman or Lewis
- Mar 6, 2001Apropos of nothing that's been discussed here lately (not that I've really kept up lately, being busy with other things and Life), I wanted to recommend a couple of books and commend the critical acumen of David Bratman. I've recently accused David of being too much like Tolkien and hating everything (who said that about JRRT?). So I looked up a couple of books that I recall him recommending and read them in the past couple of
weeks. (I really didn't have time for this but somehow, once I'd started them I finished them. This may have something to do with the fact that neither book is any longer than it need be--or any shorter).
Oddly, despite my recommendation here, I was rather disappointed in _The Land of Laughs_, by Jonathan Carroll. Only because having started it, and finding it well-written, and remembering the positive comments from David and others, I started expecting a truly Great Book, which it's not. But, despite a cheap (but appropriate and well-fitting) ending, this book is an unpretentious and solid work of art. Some of the premises are
similar to other books that have been built around imaginary children's fantasy classics, like last year's MFA finalist, _Dark Cities Underground_, by Lisa Goldstein. But the book turns out to be more unlike those other books, actually in a turn to a more mundane and less magical story. It also reminded me a bit of some of John Fowles' books, like _The Magus_ but without all the artistic pretentions (which I like in Fowles, I'm
just trying to be descriptive, here). Maybe I'm mostly thinking of the protagonist/narrator, who reminds me of some of Fowles's callow protagonists. Mostly, I don't like these men very well, even if I recognize the truth in the portrayals--this may account for my lessened appreciation for this book. It is the portrayals of characters, all in the service of the clever, logically worked-out fantasy premise, that raise this book
up--and probably its fine and well-chosen diction and style--from other books. Alas, the fantasy premise actually detracts from what is good here, as if the author is a captive to the working out of the mechanical plot. It's not that I wasn't surprised by the ending (I wasn't), surprise wouldn't have been enough to redeem the clever but obvious ending, which isn't much more than wish-fulfillment, and which offers nothing more in
the way of ideas than the closing of a trap.
The other book, which I think maybe Berni also recommended, was the aforementioned Lisa Goldstein's _A Mask for the General_. This is a lovely and sensitive portrayal of people living under a dictatorship that in its focus on interactions of characters never gives up anything in treating Big Ideas, without (I think) ever preaching. It is not as brilliant or magnificent as Pat Murphy's _The City, Not Long After_, which it
resembles in a number of respects, but it may actually be more artistically complete and perfect. (It also reminds me of Megan Lindholm's _Wizard of the Pigeons_). In contrast to Carroll's book, the ending here is also the springing of a trap, but one that seems to simultaneously open and free both its captive and the story's reader. I find that this book is haunting me.
e-mail: d-lena@... web-page: http://umn.edu/~d-lena/BreeMoot.html
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