Saturday, April 26, 2008

Crazy debutante alert (Books - The Reserve and others)

Sometimes crazy characters are endlessly fascinating - their psychology creates the kind of unpredictability that makes a story exciting - other times you just want to slap them. Vanessa Cole in Russell Banks The Reserve is the second kind. In fact, it's not only Vanessa but also Jordan Groves, the painter who is entangled with her, Alicia his wife, and Hubert St. Germain who is entangled with Alicia - they all seem bent on mindless self-destruction in a way that just makes me want to throw up my hands for the lot of them. It's as though their little corner of upstate New York has been struck with a case of mass hysteria. I'm still admiring Banks' wordsmithery but his plotting has turned obvious. I'm about 100 pages from the end now and the plot proper and the mysterious italicized passages that I mentioned in my last post are beginning to come together in a way that feels rather melodramatic. **Spoiler Alert** While I joked about it, Vanessa Cole's mental health is actually rather important to the plot, it is rather an important element to her character too - one that I didn't necessarily suspect from my initial meeting with her **Spoiler over,** yet Banks, rather than let us discover this fact slowly, not being sure, as one might in meeting Vanessa several times, he dumps her back story on us unceremoniously in a twenty page chunk of narrative explanation that I found disappointing for being reportorial and unintegrated with the rest of the story. I'm still holding out hope for the rest of the story, with any luck I might finish it today, but I am no longer confident of where Banks is taking me.

That being said, I've heard people sing rhapsodies about Banks writing before now. So when I was trolling around my favorite bookstores with a friend on Thursday, I ended up, among many books, getting The Darling, an earlier novel of his set in the U.S. and Liberia. It focuses on Banks' interest in many previous books - the politics of race. I ended up with many other treasures to boot! William Trevor's Fools of Fortune, Stefan Zweig's Chess Story, Cormac McCarthy's Crossing, a biography of Walter Benjamin, and Proust and the Squid about the neuroscience of reading. But I wasn't done - no - on Friday I finally found some books that I had had trouble locating for a while. There is a trilogy by Wolfgang Koeppen that I learned about in Marcel Reich-Ranicki's memoir (itself a fascinating book)- a German novelist - including Pigeons in the Grass, Hothouse, and Death in Rome which examines the post war Germany through the lives of four characters who each symbolize an element of German culture. Along with them, I ordered the John Woods translation of Magic Mountain. I had an old used paperback edition that is falling to pieces now, and I have heard that this translation is much better.


Anonymous said...

My goodness what a book haul! and some very tasty morsels. I am sorry to hear that the newest Russell Banks is a bit of a let down, with the plotting becoming so obvious. I came to him late with Cloudsplitter (still among my top books) and then read my way back through the others. I haven't kept up though.
I just read your A - Z post (which I am posting on shortly); we have a lot of favorites in common---most notably Iris Murdoch. How fun!

Ted said...

It's good to hear that Banks' Cloudsplitter is considered worthwhile by someone who shares my taste for Iris Murdoch. I was reluctant to commit to a book that length without some enthusiastic recommendations.