You’d have thought that, having little to do but hang around the apartment this week, I’d have continued my blistering pace of reading. Indeed, I thought this too. Due to travel restrictions (i.e. what I could manage to pack in my messenger bag without it falling apart), 2666 had to ride in my big bag while I ended up taking Netherland on the train with me.
I’ve just finished it, now, today. Nearly an entire week later. I think it was while I was on the train that I first thought, “Hmmm… this isn’t very good.”
It wasn’t, however, until I’d say Thursday that I actually started expressing my dislike to people. Telling them “I’m reading an awful book” or “For the first time in a long time, I hate what I’m reading – and its pleasure reading.” People asked why I didn’t just close it and move on – I had two reasons. One, I hate putting down a book without having finished it. I mean, you really have to have absolutely offended my sensibilities if I’m putting your book down – because to take the time to get into a book is an investment. If you leave before the book is finished, all of that time is wasted because the book will fade into obscurity and you will never be able to count it as a “read” book and so it sits there, on the shelf, like a gym sock on a towel rod. Two, I got it for Christmas. And was excited to have gotten it. I’d have felt awful to not finish a book I got for Christmas.
So why didn’t I like it? Well, first, what I did like: there was a short sequence around page 170 where Hans (the narrator/main character) is back in London and everything is just completely different. The tone, the characters, they all just feel different. Its a nice little moment, a slice of a city that I miss desperately. So there was that. I also was intrigued (at least at the beginning) by the concept of the novel. It was pitched as a The Great Gatsby for the post 9/11 American. Sounds bloody brilliant, right?
Well, this is where things fall apart. See, I like that novel or at least the aesthetic it presents. It is an important novel and captures America at a certain time. This novel, I think, tried to do the same – tried to capture what it was like to live in New York in the months and years after “it” happened. Plain and simple, it does not succeed. One, the main character Hans is not an American. He’s Dutch, his wife is British, and they are NOT Americans. Sure, they felt awful when it happened etc etc because they were still there and it was still fucking terrifying but they weren’t AMERICANS. Its like some Dutch guy living in Japan at the end of WWII – you can’t really associate without having that internal blood connection, I’m sorry.
The author, too, is not an American though he lives in NYC now. So I wish the book hadn’t been marketed and presented in such a way. There’s a lot about cricket which really does sound fascinating… but the book also didn’t really go as in depth as I wanted it to into this apparently vibrant sub-culture of cricket in New York. Chuck Ramkissoon, the “Gatsby-like” character, might as well be imagined. The last scene, where he never shows up on Thanksgiving and a couple of policemen are like “what guy with a suitcase over there? what are you talking about?” – Ramkissoon felt imaginary like that. Like Tyler Durden but with cricket instead of fight club.
Except, again, he wasn’t engrossing like Durden. Nothing about this book was engrossing. It was just poorly written and so self-important. A fucking weird sex scene about halfway through the novel was really the tipping point for me on the “this book blows” scale. The whole book had a numbness to it that was, perhaps, the author’s intention… until the end, when things are supposed to warm up and Hans gets back together with his wife (which the reader knows is going to happen because its mentioned at the outset). Then you realize that, no, O’Neill is just a bad author. The end of the book, the last few lines are as follows:
“Look!” Jake is saying, pointing wildly. “See, Daddy?”
I see, I tell him, looking from him to Rachel to him again. Then I turn to look for what it is we’re supposed to be seeing.
…..REALLY? Good God, I understand that your character has been reunited happily with his wife and kid and blah blah blah sees life as a better thing, thanks in part to the slightly shady but definitely good-hearted intentions of a shady gangster-y friend… but like come on. This was just bad. That is bad writing, no two ways about it. The book, unfortunately, is marred with bad writing like that and the book just… it isn’t good. It does not capture New York at all, which I think is the greatest travesty. It seems more like “well, this is what people expect New York to seem like” right down to the RENT-stealing guy who wears angel wings in the hotel where Hans lives.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a book for pleasure that I disliked, let alone one that I actually hated (and I think I did, in fact, hate this book). May it be a long time until the next one… and may I have time this semester in between the plays for Contemporary, Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s Politics and the philosophy for philosophy to enjoy myself and read a few of these other pleasure books. Like 2666, Fast Food Nation, Eating Animals, or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Happy Start of Term, kids!