Whether literature will save us or not is a poetic question, and the narrator’s prosaic denunciation of its false promises cannot settle the matter one way or another. Towards the end the narrator throws his manuscript into a burning abyss, choosing to save his child with Irina. How then are we left with this lexical arabesque delineating the contours of the possibility space occupied by human consciousness in an indifferent world? Solenoid answers the riddle by positioning itself qua literary work as a noble lie. In successfully reporting the narrator’s choice of the human satisfactions of love and commitment the literary work overcomes its chimerical destiny.
In the final section Pampa Kampana, coming to terms with the decline of the Vijayanagar empire, reflects that “words are the only victors.” Rushdie is alive to that scruple and will not let the moralising impulse detract from the power of words. Let those who want to learn something from fiction be content to be entertained and edified. Those who, like humourless ayatollahs, can’t manage this are ineducable.
Sarah Thankam Mathew’s All This Could be Different has been marketed, and widely reviewed, as a novel in which electric prose serves a calling higher than the merely aesthetic. The prose here is au courant, fluent in the meme-inflected argot of the relatively young extremely online reader, and exemplary of the transparent, personality-effacing style of writers coming out of MFA programs.
The titular protagonist of Meiselman: The Lean Years has at the age of thirty-six had an epiphany: he’s been a pushover ever since he can remember, and he doesn’t want to be the good guy who finishes last. He is neither a hero nor a celebrity, neither likeable nor engaging though he tries valiantly to rise to each description. Alas, yeast is wanting.
Blake Bailey's Philip Roth biography has something for everyone: it satisfies the reader who wants to relive the rapture of reading Roth at his best, the literary dilettante who wants to bone up on dinner table banter about notable priapic penpushers, and aspiring heirs to Roth’s ballpoint sceptre.
Novices and accomplished writers alike seem to agree that writing is hard. One would be a fool, then, to pass up on hard won insights from an author of twenty…
In "Crossroads" Jonathan Franzen flaunts his complete abandonment of any pretence to style; substance and form have fought each other, and substance stands undefeated, gloating, on the corpse of form.
Charlie Kaufman’s (2020) Antkind has been described as unsummarizable. Though he has offered an intelligible gist in several interviews, it’s fairly obvious he doesn’t want readers to think that’s that. Is this novel worth reading, and should you read it? These are questions a review is obligated to answer, though literary criticism might elide them. In advertising this piece as a review I am committed to answer. So, I’ll say it absolutely is worth reading. As to whether you should read it, it depends on whether or not: you are okay with reading words like hebetudinousness, and pulchritudinous in fiction; you are willing to let the central plot meander without resolution; you are fine with metafictional political and cultural commentary that is becoming stale even as you read this. This piece also is a small serving of literary criticism, and like Kaufman I think criticism ought to deliver more than a vote or veto. Accordingly, I’ve spent some time zooming in on aspects of Antkind’s modus operandi qua shaggy dog story, its use of free association, its formal innovation, and its literary register. If you come away thinking you’re likely to find this book to be deserving a 3.5 out of 5 then I’ll have succeeded in my project. That’s my rating in any case.
Kunzru is clever and modest enough to recognize that his protagonist would be readily, and appropriately so, categorized as a Soyjak with his “eyes wide” and his “mouth hanging open in an idiotic ‘o’” of outrage (p.182) and has some groypers depict him that way in a meme. The humanely painted characters fail to make much happen in their lives or the narrative given the soaring ambition of the novel and relative sparsity of the plot. In a better novel the loss of the fundamentally decent to the vagaries of time and chance would've been less pathetic, perhaps even galvanizing. In the novel as it is, however, one sees that the world is unfair but delights in the abasement of the Soyjak. Read it for the lyrical prose, and abandon all hope if you yearn to see neoreaction effectively satirised. It is deserving of a respectable 2.5/5.