Thursday, February 22, 2007

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. - I Thess. 4:16

I stopped reading Inheritance of Loss literally halfway through. The novel is gorgeously, sometimes even sumptuously, written; yet it’s not overbearing, not maudlin, not excessive or sloppy. Desai writes so evocatively, you just close your eyes and savor her words:

The caress of the mist through her hair seemed human, and when she held her fingers out, the vapor took them gently into its mouth.

Or this:
The cook came hurrying out with the leftover chocolate pudding warmed on the fire in a frying pan and the judge ate the lovely brown puddle and gradually his face took on an expression of grudging pudding contentment.
My face has borne that expression of 'pudding contentment,' I can feel it in my muscles right now.

Would that she were so skilled with character development.
I am 150 pages in (of approximately 300) and couldn’t care less what happens to any of the characters: not Sai the lovelorn, orphaned teenager, not her guardian and uncle, the judge, not the cook, not Biju the cook’s son trying to make his way in America. If there is an Indian stereotype that Desai hasn’t used, I can’t think of it. And perhaps that is because, as I like to say, often stereotypes are stereotypical for good reason. But it got tiresome and stale, and I can’t read anymore because I simply don’t care what happens to any of them. Lovely writing can only take you so far.

I found out a few days ago that my work library had a copy of the new and much-talked-about The Echo Maker; I was something like 35th of 70 holds at the public library so I checked it out at work and cancelled my public library hold, and started it that night, on the bus on the way home, motion sickness be damned. Can someone please tell me what the hell all the fuss is about? It’s downright boring. If you want to read an amazing probe into treatment of brain damage and trauma or stress, read this sad and shocking expose of Walter Reed Army Hospital, and the way our veterans are, at best, misunderstood and, at worst, mistreated by the Army administration. If you want to read a fictionalized account of something similar – an exploration of identity and the hidden undercurrents of relationships - I can with confidence recommend (even though I have not read it yet) Nicole Krauss’ Man Walks Into a Room; if it’s even a third as good as History of Love, it will still be about five times more compelling than Echo Maker (Don’t you love the way I throw these numbers around like they’re somehow based in fact and actual data analysis? And I promise to recant if I read Man and it’s dreadful.) (But it won’t be.)

So what the heck am I reading, picky, picky me?

I started Lauren Sandler’s Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement and am finding it fascinating - in the way that a car wreck is fascinating. Not because of Sandler, whose writing is just fine, if sometimes clunky, or generalized, but because these fundie youngsters are downright terrifying in their certainty and their world view, clearly delineated in black or white, heaven or hell, right or wrong. These kids are what I was meant to be; that is, if Randy Hogue and his ilk had had their way with me. As it were. I escaped, fortunately for me (and you, of course, because, um, if I were a nice little Baptist still, I would not be writing this blog). I am all for religion and faith, if that works for you; I myself have settled quite nicely into the Episcopalian faith and am comfortable and – dare I say? – fulfilled in a way I wasn’t before. But if Sandler is describing many of these religious movements accurately, then I have to assert that many of them are no better than a cult like the Moonies or even God forbid, the Branch Davidians. When I finish the book, I’ll let you know if my first impressions held out throughout the book. Also, I'll let you know if I ran across any of my former high school classmates, right at home in the center of the crazy fundamentalist movement.

Have I ever written about the classmate’s husband who revealed at our fifteenth reunion that he had not bothered saving for college for his kids, or for his and Jenny’s retirement, since the Rapture was going to occur on May 12, 2006? (To be honest, I cannot recall the date he quoted, but it was exact, and it is now passed.) Like the well-informed and -indoctrinated Bible scholars we were, some of us pointed out to him that the Bible says that Christ shall return “like a thief in the night” (I Thessalonians 5:2), and no one knows the hour or the day of His return (Matthew 24:36). Jim was not deterred. He was sure of his facts. Ahem. I sure hope Bob Jones University grants faith-based rather than need-based financial aid.

I grew up around this craziness, and I can’t just laugh it off. These people are dead serious, and out to convert the world, and it scares me.

So for lighter fare, I am reading The Nazi Officer’s Wife because what better to temper the serious scariness of evangelical fundamentalists than Nazis?

Now that I think of it, the new Maisie Dobbs came in the mail yesterday; I should probably keep that close at hand. Or maybe the newest issue of House and Garden.

Here, this might help:

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

If I were not a sonnet, I would be a haiku:

Short, terse, unfriendly,
Yet sometimes quite emotive;
I am the Haiku.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Yeah, pretty much.


Anonymous said...

I am also the haiku. Thanks for the lowdown on Inheritance of Loss and The Echo Maker - sometimes I feel like I ought to be reading those books that are winning adult awards, and it's a relief to know that I'm not missing out. I'll stick to my YA awards, thanks.

Badger said...

I am heroic couplets, and if I weren't that, I'd be blank verse, and those seem like opposites so WHATEVER.

And I am reading Girlfriend in a Coma and it's not thrilling me much at all.

blackbird said...

We don't have much put away...I had no idea we could blame it on the rapture.
I'll give that a shot.

off to see what poetry form I am -

blackbird said...

I, as a clerihew,
Tend to be merry; too
Merry, it might, perhaps, by some, be claimed;
But I'm sure that these people are wrong, and need to be grievously maimed.


Anonymous said...

It says I'm a terza rima, which made me laugh. I'm the last person on earth to "chatter all the while".

I bet it's because I said I would drop a cream bun from the top of a 60 story building. ;)

Anonymous said...

I am heroic couplets.

I'm half-way through rereading Harry Potter #5. Mr. Weasley is in the hospital, and Harry is full of anger and angst. So I am full of anger and angst, too.

Anonymous said...

And another thing ...

I thought of you yesterday when I enlisted the help of a reference librarian at my university. I found an article on the web: AN EVALUATION OF THE ANIMAL-BEHAVIOR THEORY For Earthquake Prediction
By RAND B. SCHAAL, a geologist at the U. of California, Davis. This was published in a journal called California Geology in 1988. The article is supposed to have figures accompanying it, but the copy on the web has no figures. Our local library doesn't have copies of this journal. The poor reference librarian worked really hard but was ultimately unsuccessful.

I'm telling you this because I have to do a short presentation on this article. It would be nice to have the figures, but I've given up hope.

Feel free to ignore this.

BabelBabe said...

ssheers - email me (babelbabe (at) -

there are 370 universities that subscribe to that journal. you should be able to do an ILL and get it fairly quickly. in fact, our public library has it (here in PA!) only they only have holdings till 84. When do you need it by? Because if worse comes to worse, i could ILL it myself and email it to you.

btw, it's ME but my own goddamn blog won't let me sign in.

Joke said...

Oy, the rapture. Don't get me started.

Oh, I'm a limerick, albeit a nudge, nudge, wink, wink one.


Kathy said...

I'm a heroic couplet or blank verse.

Lisa Jean said...

The Echo Maker, hmmm. Had it home, tried to read it, got bored, returned it, thought I might try it at some later date. Now I don't have to--thanks for that.

nutmeg said...

Oh no! about the Desai. Seeing I've already bought it and all. I will still have a try at some stage - but it's now probably further down the list. I used to "have" to read books to the end even if they were excruciatingly bad etc - but now I'm much "older and wiser" I realise life is far, far too short for that!

And I just recieved my The Nazi Officer's Wife from the Book Depository website (see my last post for directions) and cannot wait to start it - thanks for the tip off about the book :-)