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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford

Started 8/13, Finished 8/29

This review should be subtitled "America: Okay By Me!" or "Worshipping the Midwestern Mediocrity".

I hated it... nearly every stinkin' page. There's your review.

The Good

Sometimes the Mark Twain comparisons played out and he delivered a witticism or bromide that worked. It probably happened every twenty pages or so. I'm not going to go find one.

I definitely enjoyed his analysis of atheletes and of sports in general... I just wish he had spent more than ~10 pages talking about sports or being a sportswriter. That's kind of the expectation I had, not unfairly I think, given the title.

The Bad

Time has this in their top 100 list, and I don't think I'll ever be able to understand why. I know I'm way off compared to what most critics thought. I tried so hard to "get" it, going through the list of ways I can build empathy... if my kid were dead... if I were divorced... if I had trouble fitting into society because of the transient nature of the sportswriter's life... But in the end I only felt more and more contempt, for new and varied reasons with each page, until the epilogue (which was windy and FAR too long). I only finished it because I can't imagine really writing a thoughtful review of a book I didn't finish. I want to believe I have more respect for literature than that. If I hadn't finished it, I just wouldn't have mentioned it.

Nothing worked for me. I read the book because I knew the protagonist's son Ralph had died before the beginning, and I wanted to see if I could handle such a gut-wrenching, horrid affair. Well it turns out I had nothing to worry about, because the writer doesn't spend much time on it. Doesn't seem like all that big an event in the main character's life. Neither does anything else. What drives this guy? What is interesting about him? What is supposed to drive me to care? Do hijinks ensue? I couldn't tell, because I couldn't see through the bullshit.

You get nothing. Just a bunch of wry observations about life, each of which is boldly declared and then backpedaled from. It was a predictable enough pattern, a consistent enough rhythm, that it must be intentional. I have a feeling that if he or one of the sycophants who voted this thing a Faulkner award (!) read my review, s/he would say I just didn't get it. Guilty. Here's my attempt to illustrate the fundamental problem with this book. Call it satire if you will.

The grief you feel after you've lost in love is a lot like the pain of stubbing your toe. You sit, staring at the open window, wondering which tree you should stare at, how you would be judged by your family if they could see you wondering which tree deserves the attention, feeling the pain of your toe and trying to feel something like the love it reminds you of. The best parts of life can be felt through pain. It reminds us of who we are and how we live. We need our love like we need our toes to give us stability, and stubbing love is like stubbing a toe: cutting it short or banging it into a large piece of furniture. It's all the same pain. It can be the worst pain in the world. But right now in the light of a dull morning, I'm realizing for the first time that stubbing your toe, like abandoning your dream of a youthful affair, just isn't all that bad. At least it never affected me in that way.

Yep. 375 pages. Three hundred seventy five pages. How's that sound?

Another thing I couldn't get past is that old saw: "I wouldn't want to write about a man who isn't at the end of his rope." (I can't remember who said it). Frank was at the end of his rope... two years before the novel started. Four years earlier, his eldest son died from Reye's syndrome. He became dreamy and listless, and in his grief he "self-medicated" (oh, there'll be more on that later) by sleeping with approximately "18 women", most of whom were students at a small community college where he taught literature for a term. Within two years of his son's death, he is divorced. That sounds to me like a man at the end of his rope. That story might be about something. But this story isn't about that guy. There's no conflict aside from the drama Frank stretches to contrive for himself. You get a detached commentary on the facts, with some aw shucks observations on how the pain can be bearable and chin up and so forth. Maybe I don't have enough years under my belt, but I didn't feel the slightest bit of emotion toward those events. It just didn't work for me.

Here's something interesting: excerpt of a New York Times review from when the novel came out:

"In fiction, the loss of a child is by definition an exploration of a loss of faith. For the novelist, it generates a mysterious, perhaps impossible equation with which to struggle: how much does such a death contribute to upsetting the precarious balance of a faltering marriage?"

Yasee, that's not what this book was about. Those questions were generated, avoided, and tucked away long before the start of this story. They're never addressed here. This is a man whose detachment has become a badge of honor. Now, I know full well that was the intent of developing such a character. My question is, why do so many reviewers give this book more credit than it deserves? They treat it as though subtext abounds like it does in Roth and Franzen. I think they've plainly got it wrong: this is 375 pages about a man (the author, not the protagonist) whose self-loathing has given him hope of selling a lot of copies. He's hoping against hope that subtext will be gleaned by New York literary types who don't understand the midwest, and are willing to take Ford's word for it. The fucked up thing about it is that it worked. This book sold so well he wrote a sequel, and a third is coming out in October of this year.

Clearly I'm not the target audience. According to incandragon's rules of writing reviews I am officially not allowed to write a review of the Independence Day (unless I like it, of course). I doubt I will, but many reviewers on Amazon say they hated this one but loved the second. You never know.

The other thing that bothered the CRAP out of me was the dialogue. If Pat Holt were to have a #11 on her wonderful Top 10 list of mistakes that mark you as an amateur, it would probably be this: People don't address each other by name during most conversations. People only address each other, in my experience, when angry or when in a crowd.

The conversation below drove me so crazy I almost threw the book across the room (well, I almost did that about 30 times, but this was bad enough that I yelled at the author. Out loud. In bed. At 1:30am while my wife slept in the rocking chair, infant at her breast. I woke them both up.)

"What do you worry about, Frank, if you don't mind my
asking?" Walter is still ghost-solemn.
"Really not that much, Walter. Sometimes at night my heard pounds. But it goes back to normal when I turn on the light."
"You're a man with rules, Frank. You don't mind, do you, if I say that? You have ethics about a lot of important things."
"I don't mind, Walter, but I don't think I have anythics at all, really. I just do as little harm as I can. Anything else seems too hard." I smile at Walter in a bland way.
"Do you think I've done harm, Frank? Do you think you're better than I am?"
"I think it doesn't matter, Walter, to tell you the truth. We're all the same."
"That's evading me, Frank, because I admire codes, myself. In everything." ...
"Good, Walter." ...

"But let me ask you, Frank, what do you do when something worries you and you can't make it stop. You try and try and it won't." ...
"I usually don't get get in such a bad state, Walter."
"You know what I think, Frank?"
"What, Walter[?]"
"You don't seem to be somebody who knows he's going to die, that's what."

That last sentence is, no kidding, the first one in that whole section that doesn't have one addressing the other... and after that one line, the pattern resumes again. Could this be a "device"? A sort of "technique"? A severe lack of "editing", perhaps? I can't give him that much credit.

My wife suggested that they were playing a game with each other, setting a rhythm to their conversation. I can accept that. I could accept that, rather, if he didn't have exactly the same conversation with his girlfriend's father Wade. Or exactly the same conversation with every other man in the book. Not the women, strangely. Somehow the female characters don't merit being called by name. Probably because this man thinks so little of the women in his life I'm surprised he can remember their names.

Which brings me to...

The Ugly

What I find most contemptible (and here is where I've buried the lead) is how entrenched this man's privilege has dictated every move he's made. It's nice to be alive in the 80s!

Especially if you're white. Oh, and
  • male
  • protestant
  • middle-class
He calls his ex-wife "X". He doesn't remember the names of many of the 18 women he slept with during his... whatever you want to call it period-of-grief. When he meets the intern he's trying to seduce (he's 38, she's 20, and this is the closing pages of the book where his success here means a happy ending), he thinks of her as Melissa/Kate until he finds out her name is Catherine. Every female character in this book (his own age and younger) is assessed in terms of her sexual relationship with the narrator. There's even a reference to his daughter's white cotton panties that disturbed the hell out of me. Sure he'll "tell" you they're smart or wise or wide-eyed or something. But his character is only in the search for body parts.

To an extent, I am a believer in Harold Bloom's idea that you should keep politics and political views out of literary criticism... but I can't give this guy a pass. It's not that these views are at the forefront, or that they're used to expose character. They're every bit a part of the prose as the letters in the words. It is entirely unaware. Since the 1980s produced such films as Porky's and The Eiger "By the way, how's that black stuff?" Sanction, it should come as no surprise to our descendants to know that in the 1980s, white men were very honest about their sense of privilege: so much so that they failed to address it as it was. This book shall be our ambassador to posterity.

The racial attitudes were just as entrenched, they just didn't come up as much. Here's the best I could find just by flipping through. It's about Frank's boarder, an seminary student from Africa named Bosobolo:

"Two times lately, from my car window, I've seen him arm-in-arm with a dumpy white seminary girl half his age... What a piece of exoticism it must be! A savage old prince, old enough to be her father, whonking away on her like a frat boy."

This next quote was great. Very telling, and on multiple levels. It's from a New York Times review of another Ford book (A Multitude of Sins, a collection of short stories that I shan't read):

When asked last year by The Kenyon Review what kind of relationship he has with his characters, Ford replied: ''Master to slave. Sometimes I hear them at night singing over in their cabins.'' Singing. So that's what that was. It sounded like whining.

There's a lot more to be said on this subject, but this has gone on long enough.

I'll close with a little gem I just discovered. Here's a pull-quote from the back of the book, referencing the same NYT review I found earlier:

Richard Ford is a daring and intelligent novelist [with an] extraordinary ear for dialogue and the ability to create the particulars of everyday life with stunning accuracy

Here's the full quote (this is AWESOME):

If there are layers of irony and perception, they are too subtle and diffuse. Mr. Ford's admirable talents, which include an extraordinary ear for dialogue and the ability to create the particulars of everyday life with stunning accuracy...are not well served in a novel given to abstract analysis.

And here's a nice clunker from near the end, for those who believe Mr. Ford to be such the distinguished stylist:

"If I could write a short story, I would. But I don't think I could, and do not plan to try, which doesn't worry me."

Almost sounds like Dr. Seuss, doesn't it?

Book #22 will be Lincoln, by Gore Vidal. I already started it last weekend when I left this tripe at a friend's house. Let me tell you it was difficult to come back to this.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles

Started 7/30, Finished 8/12

Boy, would it ever be easy to read this and toss it out of your mind. These people wander in the desert, do nothing, learn nothing, and then it ends. That's what terrifies you in the first 20 pages. You think you've stumbled across a lesser account of idiots from Stein's génération perdue, drinking their way across sand instead of Old Europe. Then you start to feel a bit uneasy, like maybe there's something deeper going on (just like in all those other Lost Generation stories...). By the end you're practically terrified, of the desert, but more importantly, of what we as Americans have become. And this was 60 years ago.

I want to cover three separate aspects of this book, and I'll say right now that I'm not thinking much about authorial intent. I have very little idea what Bowles' attitude was toward the topics I'm going to discuss. From the speculation I've come across, I wouldn't like it if I knew it. So, I'm going to evaluate this purely based on what I'm able to gleam from the manuscript.

The Sheltering Sky opens a lot like Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, where a small group of American expats are throwing their money around a foreign culture in an attempt to numb the pain of their existence. Port and Kit Moresby, a couple whose marriage has been as barren as the Sahara for years, embark on an expedition throughout northern Africa. With fellow expat Tunner in tow, they start in Algeria and move ever inward across the desert, ending up in a central Sudanese village. As their journey takes them into less and less "civilized" areas, into the chaos of a life out of control, their adventure follows the pattern of their lifeless marriage. Hijinks are self-abusive, ugly, and very very American.

Through recent world events, as well as my own curiousity about the history of Western colonialization in the past 4 centuries, I've begun to notice a trend. No doubt it's one that's been around as long as races have attempted to integrate, but it's a relatively new concept to me. So bear with me if what I'm describing is repeated in some 9th grade socialogy textbook. The trend is this: Misunderstanding a culture is the first step toward destroying it. Simple enough. White people enter a world with brown people who speak a foreign language. They don't have running water. Instantly the white people get the idea that the brown people need their lives "improved". Within a few years, half the population of brown people is either enslaved or in prison. The majority of the other half is serving the oppressors, losing their language to the foreign tongue, losing their houses to the foreign rich people, and losing their culture to trousers, chamber music, and pétanque. Yeah, I'm looking at you, France. Don't sit there all innocent-looking. You were arguably the worst. Don't worry: now we've taken the honors. You're welcome.

How does that relate? The Arabs in this book are landscape. Purely 2-dimensional walking stereotypes. Now, many have criticized Bowles harshly for this, but I choose to believe it was not what it appears at face value. What comes across to me is not Bowles' attitude, but his characters'. Their observations and trite speculations about the intellectual capacity of any given "native" ends up painting and solidifying an ugly portrait of those making the observations--the Arabs themselves are only landscape in these self-indulgent peoples' lives. They're there to be put up with, not dealt with as human beings. At one point one of the (French) colonial governors suggests locking them all up and leaving them to starve, so he can get some real civilized people in there. It's 1948 in the book, so we're only a few years from Moroccan and Algerian independence, but this state of mind serves to describe the French attitude for the previous 100 years, and shows just how seductive it is for other whites to cast these people aside like grains of sand. It turns your stomach, because it just wasn't all that long ago.

Kit and Port aren't following the archetypal patterns of the road novel. They're not searching for redemption... they're seeking oblivion. Their lives in New York's intellegentsia were meaningless, so they try to find places where they're guaranteed to feel superior to the locals. This starts in Algeria, where little by little they realize they're being had by the populace. They move inward. Again, they find themselves shrinking in comparison to the landscape. Their dollars become meaningless. Their excellent French can't save them because nobody speaks it. Along with a fleeting superiority comes a glimpse into the savage and perilous world that they can no longer control because they cannot buy it. Once it becomes impossible for them to retain their superior airs, they succomb to oblivion: alcohol, sexual temptation, disease, and insanity. In the end they are consumed by their inability to look beyond themselves into the world they are so bent on conquering.

The last thing I want to address is the part that gave me the most trouble in trying to deal with authorial intent. It also involves some spoilers, so be warned. It's the final section of the novel, where Kit willfully becomes an object for men to pass around. Bowles states it just as plainly in the Preface to the book. When she is first raped, she ends up in love with the rapist. I had a BIG problem with this when I first came across it, but that's only because I had to stop reading right at that moment. I thought, "typical, the male point of view where rape is just pleasure with an unpleasant beginning". I almost didn't want to finish. But then I got to thinking more and more about it (as I assume was the intent). Kit is finding her own oblivion, her "zero", trying to master her death in order to forget her insignificant and wasted life. The brief marriage, escaping to freedom in order to... what, exactly? One reviewer explained it as "a noose plaited from strands of nymphomania and insanity". I don't like the word nymphomania here, partly because the term itself has been disavowed (so we can forgive the guy writing in 1949), but mostly because it's not compulsive from her end. She is no longer in control of anything in her life, having been taken as a slave during the vulnerable period when her mind was destroyed by her husband's death.

I'm not going to say she, or Port, get the ending they deserve, because nobody deserves to die just for the crime of selfishness. I'm going to say they get the ending they desire, because their comfortable lives, the comfortable and unchallenged lives of most Americans, have given nothing to the world compared to their potential. They're empty in soul, so they can have no other ending but make their bodies match.

Anyway, that's what I thought when I was reading it. Like I said, Bowles seems to have been quite cagey in life. It's hard to find out, between all that has been written about him and his work, just how deep his intentions were. What we're left with is a text that can at worst be described as a great travellogue (before the unpleasantness begins), and at best a comment on colonialism of the past 400 years. That's quite a range of interpretations, eh?


Book #21 will be The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Turning Angel, by Greg Iles

Started 7/27, finished 7/30

As I've indicated before, I really like Greg Iles. He's a role model for me in that he has the career path I want: he writes very good, very thoughtful prose, and in about as many different genres as you could imagine. I love his work, and I hope I'm allowed as much leeway with my agents and publishers.

Funny, at a book signing I asked him how he got such leeway when he was just starting out and wanted to get away from taut WWII suspense-thrillers. His answer? "I lied to my publisher, and it's a move I'd recommend anyone make when they aren't getting what they want."

Well it worked for him... and that's encouraging. He's going on an 11 year career of writing Stuff that Sells... and he's got me. He's no Rushdie or McEwan or Roth, but I'm not sure he's trying to be. I'm not sure he couldn't be if he tried. He has the freedom to be able to study and explore some of the most challenging issues of the real modern world, the ones that interest him personally. I admire this, and I think it adds a special dimension to each of the books that I've read (going on 5 of 10 at this point), because he really gets into them.

Turning Angel is about the fall of the All-American man. Dr. Drew Elliot is a former all-American football player: handsome, mid-40s, upper-middle class income, a promising career and a wonderful family. It all comes to an end one evening when he finds out that Kate, the 17-year-old girl he's been sleeping with for several months, has been murdered. Hijinks are thoughtfully considered and well described.

Penn Cage, the hero of the Quiet Game, is back as the narrator of this story. Iles once described Cage as his "Atticus Finch", someone so good and wholesome that he sometimes feels unrealistic, or even inappropriate in the world now. I think that's a rather sad view to take. Cage is bold, not afraid to break the rules when he has to, and his sense of morality is fundamental to who he is. I would like to consider that I'm the same way, or at least trying to be... the difference is that I'm not as smart as this guy, I'm not as good at thinking on my feet, and my current profession doesn't put me in a situation where I can save people's lives very often. In fact, I doubt it will ever happen, even in an indirect way. Cage is a good hero. He understands evil and temptation, so it's nice to see how he deals with them, but it's nicer that he's believable in my own personal universe.

I'm a slow reader, and in one day I read around 200 pages (this was just after kid #2 was born, so you can imagine how little time I had), a record only previously broken by a Harry Potter book. The mystery is a good one, and the way he tells it I just can't put it down. In retrospect (I finished it a few weeks ago), there are some weak points with the resolution and the solution to the mystery, and the plot takes a weird turn at one point that makes me think Iles just had this interesting puzzle in his head ("how to escape from an abandoned battery factory while forcibly hooked on heroin") that he wanted to have a character get out of. I can't blame him, and it worked very well for me during the moment, but I doubt it would win the book any awards.

As to the moral problems some had with the book, I think that's an interesting topic worthy of discussion. But Iles sorta stacked the deck in his favor: the girl is two weeks from her eighteenth birthday, with early acceptance to Harvard. For all practical purposes, he's made it very difficult for people to say he took advantage of this girl, who is so obviously (as described) mature beyond her years. I'm not saying it's right, but it reminded me of the only John Grisham I've read (the book that convinced me to read no more John Grisham), the Chamber, which is John Grisham's tirade against the death penalty. Grisham set the situation up so that it would be very difficult for even the most staunch death penalty advocate against the victim. The example was so extreme, it was highly dismissable... there was really no moral case at all.

Now, I'm not saying Iles is advocating relationships with underage girls, because that's not what he's going after. But along the way, he's trying to make you at least question your own views about the whole issue, and yet he uses this snake-bit case that would be difficult for anyone to argue against. Is it because he isn't ready to commit to confronting the issue? Well, probably. Like I said, that's not the fish he's trying to fry. He's essentially presenting us a keyhole view into the world of modern-day high school, where sexual relationships are every bit as complicated as those in the adult world. Drugs are everywhere, children have no illusions, they're much wiser at 17 than my generation was at 25, etc.

It opens a bit of conflict in my mind, because what little confrontation he does get into with the underage issue glosses over real abuses that happen every day, in much more difficult cases. Now, I can't hold him responsible for trying to take that whole mess head-on, because he's just trying to tell a little story. But I couldn't stop thinking about that one facet while I was reading.

So, all in all, another good Iles. Probably the weakest of his that I've read, but it's still better than any Grisham I've ever read :) . Even if he didn't cover the issues exactly like I would have, he told a good story and made me think.

Book #20 will be The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles (with apologies to MoorishGirl, who would probably prefer that I read something by a Moroccan author - fair enough... any suggestions?)


Saturday, August 12, 2006

An Excellent Take on Oliver Stone

This is exactly the kind of article I'm trying to write about Ron Howard. Something to convince people who accept Howard as a good storyteller. I've hated Stone's films for years and wasn't quite able to voice it clearly. Now I don't need to, because Jim Emerson nails it.



Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie

Started 6/17, Finished 7/27

If I can learn to write with Rushdie's energy, I don't even care if I get published. His mind and heart and soul and pen are as alive as, well, as I would hope, given that he's stared death in the face for nearly 20 years now. Of course, this book was written well before all that started...

It's so hard to know where to begin on this one. I feel like I've used up a lot of "superlative adjective points" in my praise of other books on the list (what's my allotment of superlatives, anyway?) I guess that comes with stacking the deck to increase the odds that I'll enjoy nearly everything on the list (Eleven Minutes notwithstanding). I'm beginning to see that it's difficult to be a critic when everything is a rave. So beyond citing some of its credentials, I'll stay away from generalities (telling), and try to convey exactly why this book deserves all these awards (showing). See, it won not only the Booker, but it won the "Booker of the Bookers" prize - meaning it was voted the best of all the first 25 books to win the Booker award. In Time Magazine's "Top 100 Novels (Since 1923)", it was voted #1 by a reader's poll.

Midnight's Children is the story of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the exact moment of Britain's departure from India. The story follows Saleem until 1979, covering a good bit of history, and tying parallels between the life of the boy and the development of his country as a nation-state. Hijinks could be analyzed until the end of your life if you are a deep enough reader.

"No colors except green and black the walls are green the sky is black (there is no roof) the stars are green the Widow is green but her hair is black as black. The Widow sits on a high high chair the chair is green the seat is black the Widow's hair has a center-parting it is green on the left and on the right black. High as the sky the chair is green the seat is black the Widow's arm is long as death its skin is green the fingernails are long and sharp and black. Between the walls the childreen the walls are green the Widow's arm comes snaking down the snake is green the children scream the fingernails are black they scratch the Widow's arm is hunting see the children run and scream the Widow's hand curls round them green and black. Now one by one the children mmff are stifled quiet the Widow's hand is lifting one by one the children green their blood is black unloosed by cutting fingernails it splashes black on walls (of green) as one by one the curling hand lifts children high as sky the sky is black there are no stars..."

...and it goes on for two pages. I read it, wondering at the imagery, of characters yet introduced and "how am I supposed to remember all that?" and "what the hell..." but it's this passage that sticks with me the most. Because when you finish the book and you go back and read this again every word of it makes sense. The beauty of the rhythm you see and hear in there when you first come across it is greatly magnified when you get it. It starts to play inside your head, coloring all you think about, until that moment between sleep and wake you start to think about the day ahead the work is green the commute is black... And this is just one example of Rushdie's skills!

The book (whether intentionally or not) gives you a vocabulary to apply metaphors to all phases of life. The most innocuous images: the center-parting, the stifled children, the curling hand... each of these is a recurring theme: the parting between India and Pakistan, the parting between Saleem, the main character, and Shiva, his "hero" alter-ego "nose and knees; knees, and a nose", later the split of Pakistan into East-West (Bangladesh). This work has layers of meaning upon layers of meaning, giving the reader a connection between the events of the now to the events of the ancient. Saleem is a metaphor for India, India is a metaphor for Saleem. This is the biography of a country told as the biography of a child.

Talking about the parallelism, he even gives you clues along the way, referring to the ways Saleem and his country interact with each other: active-literal, active-metaphorical, passive-literal, passive-metaphorical. Every life event can be analyzed to one of these four categories in his relationship to India. Either he has had a direct effect on India (active-literal), or it has had a direct effect on him (passive-literal). Either it has had a symbolic effect on him (passive-metaphorical) or an event in his life mirrors a larger event in India (passive-metaphorical). This revelation, right there in the book, is doing all the analysis for you: and it's now a tool I'm going to use in my own projects. Relationships not between people and other people, but between people and objects, objects and other people, nations and other nations, people and nations. You can bet that if a shard of meaning can be extracted from a given relationship, it is explored in this book.

It's all about skills. Rushdie could keep you in edge-of-seat suspense while you wait to find out what flavor of chutney will accompany dinner. You'll be biting your pillowcase and drumming your fingers while you wait. What flavor? Don't tease me anymore?! I need to know! WHAT IS IT?!?! But that's about the least of what this man can do. He dangles threads of suspense as an afterthought, casually, as easily as a master tenor clearing his throat.

Every word is carefully laid out, yet it seems to have been spray-painted in fits of passion.
The amount of energy he brings to his prose is inspiring, and it never lets up. He keeps it at 11. It doesn't peter out near the end like (IMO) The Lovely Bones, or heck, my own godforsaken novel. Then you figure out that the character Saleem, disillusioned and beaten down at the ripe old age of 31, is conveying all this energy to you in order to laugh at you. "Look at all of you who try to experience my life and learn new things! What does it come to? Nothing!" He's got you where he wants you, as he dangles you at the end of a marionette string during a performance he considers boring.

But behind that is this virtuoso, this master stylist, who has given Saleem a voice and, from what I understand, has lent that voice to his home country as well. What this book did for the literary scene in India is incalculable. It focused the world on this long-troubled paradise, and gave it a reason to be taken seriously. I only wish I had discovered this long ago.

Rushdie could probably be accused of some sloppiness in the timeline of his narration, because his narrator acts as though there is no "line" of time. I think it's easy to see that it's all deliberate, however. He plays games with you, yes, but at no point is it mindless. He runs backward and forward into the future and past just to pluck hints like cherries then throw you the pits while he makes you suffer for the sour you know is coming. It all seems haphazard, but he is so confident in his plot, so very sure of himself, you can see that it was meticulously planned, probably for most of Rushdie's early life. This was a magnum opus, a life's work. As I've said, if I can produce anything like this in my working life, it won't matter if it ever gets published.

Book #19 will be Turning Angel, by Greg Iles