Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Book #114: The Victim

Saul Bellow’s The Victim was an interesting read.

Bellow is a good writer and I know I’ll look forward to reading some of this other stuff that’s on this list, but The Victim didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Here’s the Goodreads summary of the book:

“Leventhal is a natural victim; a man uncertain of himself, never free from the nagging suspicion that the other guy may be right. So when he meets a down-at-heel stranger in the park one day and finds himself being accused of ruining the man’s life, he half believes it.”

And I don’t really have much to add except …yep. That’s pretty much what happens. Maybe I missed the point of the book or something, but it really was pretty much Leventhal bopping around New York feeling vaguely indignant about stuff that’s happening around (and to) him. He mostly just accepts it and, at times, he starts to feel a little bit upset and makes moves to stand up for himself, but overall he’s generally all too willing to accept the blame others heap on him for things that aren’t his fault.

It feels like The Victim could easily turn into a parody, but at the same time, it just reads like an exploration in apathy.

I really wish I had more to say about this book, but I really don’t. Leventhal would probably be a little upset that I didn’t think the story of his life was more interesting. But then again, he’d realize that he only has himself to blame. He should have done more exciting things!

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Book #101: What I Loved

Have you ever read a book that don’t mind while you’re reading it, but once you finish you feel sort of glad that it’s over?

That’s how I felt with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (who, by the way, is married to Paul Auster). It’s one of those novels that I think is almost pretentious, but isn’t totally pretentious, kind of like White Teeth or something by Jonathan Franzen.

(That said, it’s been recorded on this blog that I didn’t care for White Teeth and do not like the one book I’ve read by Jonathan Franzen.)

The book is about love and friendship, told through the eyes of an old art historian, looking back at his family’s relationship with another family. There is a lot of pretentious talk about art and literature, since the four adults in the novel are all writers, artists, or academics.

One of the men is a controversial artist in New York City, and Hustvedt takes great pleasure in describing all of his works in great detail, like she’s painting a picture of the paintings, sculptures, and other works he’s created. Often these descriptions were long and indulgent, and often they lost me. I’m not a very visual reader. I don’t often actually picture things in my head as I read, so pagelong descriptions of paintings or dioramas added little to the story for me, although I guess maybe they do for people who are really visual readers who are good at visualizing things they read about.

Also, I felt like the last section of the book was really unnecessary. Of course, this is when most of the plot actually happened, but for some reason it felt like it didn’t connect well with the rest of the book.

That sounds painfully vague, but it’s one of those character-driven books where there isn’t much plot, and the plot there is is really hard to succinctly describe.

All in all, I’d say that What I Loved is okay while you’re reading it, but I didn’t really take anything away from it, either positive or negative.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Book #90: Call It Sleep

Growing up and trying to understand the world around you is hard enough. In Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, the young narrator has it even harder as he tries to adjust to life in a new city, in a country he doesn’t understand. The story opens with the young boy and his mother meeting the father in New York City, where he has been working to save up to send for them.

The Jewish family settles into the slums and young David has to adjust to, and attempt to understand, life in the big new city. In a lot of ways, it’s a typical coming-of-age story. Growing up is tough stuff, and David has to do it in two languages. In doing so, he provides a very interesting filter to view the strange, terrifying, and remarkably foreign New York City.

Overall, Call It Sleep is a pretty interesting read. I especially liked the way Roth deals with language in the book. David’s mother never learns English, and Yiddish dialogue is woven throughout the novel. It added an interesting dimension and never let you get too comfortable in the setting. Just when you thought you were adjusting to the narrative and landscape the narrator was living in, the Yiddish would remind you that something about this is still foreign. It never lets you get too at home.

Rating: ***

Book #37: Bunner Sisters

Not sure what there is, really, for me to say about Edith Wharton’s Bunner Sisters.

It kind of reminds me of Ethan Frome (which I have not read in its entirety, but I know the story anyway) in that it’s just sort of about these two semi-pathetic characters. And then it ends kind of badly.

Bunner Sisters doesn’t really have much resolution. It tells the story of two spinster sisters who run a store in New York City.

Ann Eliza and her younger sister Evelina run – and live in – a shop in a rather seedy, run-down part of New York. Their shop is not doing particularly well and they are just barely getting by. Then, of course, comes the German clock shop owner Herman Ramy.

Ramy charms the sisters and they both fall in love with him.

The trouble is that the sisters are naive. They are own their own and, evidently, don’t understand how things work in the world.

It probably goes without saying that the story doesn’t really end well. Mr. Ramy is not the wonderful man he seems to be, and the sisters wind up suffering for it.

To be honest, I don’t have a lot to say about Bunner Sisters (which is why it’s taking me like ten days to write this post). I guess it’s a pretty good example of turn-of-the-century(ish) realism. Wharton captures the not-so-glamorous aspect of early twentieth century New York life. She doesn’t sugar-coat or paint over the bad situation. She doesn’t even really leave the story off on any positive note. Bunner Sisters pretty much “tells it like it is.” It’s short and to the point.

Rating: ***
Up Next:
 Slaughterhouse-Five

Book #27: Amerika

Take a minute to appreciate this situation:

I’m from America.

I’m living in Prague. (Somehow I always find a way to bring that up, don’t I?)

Kafka lived in Prague. I live less than 20 minutes from his grave, actually. I’m planning on visiting sometime soon.

Kafka wrote a novel about America.

I read said novel while I was in Prague.

For some reason, that makes me really happy.
Amerika is an interesting, but not completely satisfying, read. Basically, it tells the story of a young immigrant, Karl Rossman, who is forced to move to America after impregnating one of his servant girls. Once there, Karl moves from job to job, trying to “make it” in America.

The plot, then, is pretty basic. What’s interesting is that Kafka wrote Amerika, which takes place entirely in America, without having visited the place. Instead, he researched. The result is a slightly distorted version of America, where the Statue of Liberty greets newcomers with a raised sword, “Senator” seems to be a title like “lord” or “baron” or “count,” and hotels are run through a vast, bureaucratic hierarchy of employees. I don’t know whether or not Kafka was satirizing America, or if some of his information or impressions of America were wrong. Either way, I thought it was appropriate that Kafka’s America was a slightly distorted version of our own. Isn’t that what Kafka’s best at?

Anyway, I enjoyed the writing in Amerika, and I was interested in how prevalent the “American Dream” was in the story. Karl and other immigrants are constantly focused on how their jobs can get them a better position in life. At the same time, there are always ways that they are kept downtrodden or thwarted by vague authority figures.

The only reason that I didn’t enjoy Amerika to its full potential is probably that it’s unfinished. The novel was published, incomplete, posthumously. A few chapters in the middle are missing – there is a gap between where we leave Karl in the second-to-last chapter and where he shows up again in the last chapter. We know from Kafka’s notes that he was planning to move toward reconciliation in the last chapter, but because it isn’t finished, we don’t get to see this.

I wish Kafka had finished Amerika, because I liked it. I just really needed the plot-gaps to be filled in.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick

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