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szalay continued

“(An interesting idea, when she thought about it — her perception of how she felt. What was the difference between the perception of how she felt, and how she did feel? In what sense did her feelings exist when she wasn’t perceiving them — when she wasn’t feeling them?)”

Working to justify sleeping with James, after telling him she needed a break from sleeping with him. Like so much of this book, precision lavished on the second order, with the basic things left undefined. Mind you, this does not make it a bad book; instead, it’s an interesting case, a specific and particular way of getting to an effect, a metaphor. But it’s very intentionally not trying to sweep you away.



January 25, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

szalay continued

“Sometimes — usually when the sleepy sensation of skin touching skin seems of itself to hold some sort of mute insufficient promise — she still hopes that he might somehow start to understand her. The trouble is, she is unable to help feeling that it just doesn’t work like that — that if he does not understand her instinctively then trying is pointless, even if it were possible. It just makes the whole situation seem so arbitrary — and if it seems arbitrary how is she to have faith in it? Why him, in other words? Why not someone else?”

OK, also: or she in him. But the book is mostly told from James’s point of view. And a secondary story, of Katherine’s marriage — at the time of the book, in the midst of a separation — shows those things that are missing from the current foregrounded love story, all the reasons for the affair. And I don’t think that it’s just that the failed marriage is a completed narrative arc; instead, I think that there’s context in the retelling of that relationship that does not get coded into Katherine and James’s story, and that the resulting context-less pursuit is intentional.



January 24, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

szalay continued

“His lack of desire, as he wiped her — wiped her stomach and the seam of her pussy like an exhausted waiter wiping a table — was extraordinary. He felt like he would never want to fuck another woman in his life. In the last minute, the way he saw her had undergone a profound metamorphosis. He noted the sanded soreness around her mouth, the zones of irritation — little livid spots — where she had shaved part of her pubic hair, the twofold meatiness of her sex … When he had finished wiping her he threw the smeared shorts onto the floor.”

So, at the heart of this book is a diffident, uncertain relationship. Katherine pulls James along, attracting and rejecting, offering herself and deferring. This affair is both the subject of the book, and its central metaphor; I think Szalay wants James and Katherine to stand in for something else, everything else. And, really, they do; the metaphor works so very well. Except that the thing that needs to animate the story, the face-value love affair, isn’t clear. I have absolutely no idea what it is that James sees in her.



January 23, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

david szalay, spring

“The question of the day was — Is the world changing more or less quickly than it was? Alexander said LESS quickly. The world was changing less quickly now than at any point in the twentieth century. Think, he said, of the fact that in 1900 there was no powered flight at all. The Wright brothers and their experiment on the sands at Kitty Hawk were still some years in the future. And not much more than a half century after that, there were supersonic airliners, spy planes photographing from the edge of space and men on the moon — while in the almost half a century since then we have essentially not moved past that point.”

This is not part of the main thrust of the book — it’s a nice bit, with the father of one of the main characters throwing himself into play-outrage over luncheon — but it’s also an interesting bit, in a thoroughly-, carefully-put-together realist novel that’s working to capture a specific moment in recent history. It echoes Kurt Andersen’s recent bit, especially inasmuch as it’s a rendering of a highly-specific just-pre-recession moment, spring 2006, in a three-hundred-year-old form.

Graywolf 01.17.12



January 22, 2012, 11:00am   Comments