The I Love You Too Book List

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The Feast Of Love by Charles Baxter ****

In the novel The Feast of Love one of the many characters, Harry Ginsberg, tells us that according to the beliefs of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, "…everyone intuits what love is, and yet it cannot be spoken of directly. Or distinctly. It falls into the category of the unknown, where plain speech is inadequate to the obscurity of the subject." However, in The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter does an excellent job of describing what love is, and means, to different people in plain (but eloquent) prose. The novel starts with Charles Baxter, himself (a fairly tired literary device), stumbling upon a neighbor, Bradley W. Smith and his dog Bradley (I actually know somebody who named her pets after herself so this was not such a unique concept to me) during a sleepless night in Ann Arbor. Bradley suggests Charles should write about love after listening to stories given by real people -- Bradley’s friends, coworkers, neighbors, and wives. Bradley also suggests titling the book after one of his paintings, The Feast of Love. From here we are told stories in a “Rashomon” style narrative, in which each of the major characters in the novel take turns telling their story of love, commenting on and correcting each others different versions of the same stories. Much of the book consists of direct dialogue (either to other characters or to the reader) with differences in intonation, diction and style, making each character's voice unique and identifiable. Charles Baxter’s incredible ability to slip into several skins, making each character distinctive and diverse, allows for this narrative style to work very well.

The novel consists of each character recounting love’s triumphs, failures, deceptions, delicacy, destruction, unpredictability, and enormity. However, the novel isn’t strictly a discussion of love, The Feast of Love is also about the cast-off moments in our daily lives, death, sex, the sad loneliness of our modern mall-culture, parenting, youth, philosophy, religion and intimate moments. It is because of Charles Baxter’s excellent style and prose combine with varied subject matter that this novel can not only be read, but appreciated by nearly everyone -- those in love, those with broken hearts, and those in longing. Charles Baxter composes a brilliant novel here. His prose is radiant and flowing, a splendid weaving of voices and ideas, each individual and undeniable. The plot, although unconventional, really starts to show about halfway through the book when the characters individual stories begin intetwineing and bouncing off each other in an absorbing manner.

This novel is not for the fan of literary realism. Most of the novel is quite dream like, magical, a sort of incantation or fabulist reverie. However, at the same time, much of this novel seems to stay grounded and within the realms of reality, maybe because pieces of the book are actually (at least partially) factual. Part of the reason that this novel may have sections that seem real, notwithstanding Charles Baxter’s realistic writing style and ear for dialogue, is because much of it is. Not only is one of the characters the actual author but many of the details involved in the set and setting are bona fide. The novel takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan and many of the places and streets are real. Chloé’s and Oscars favoriute band, The School of Velocity, is real and actually pretty good (I’m a sucker for bands with female singers though).

This is a learned novel with references to philosophy (Spinoza, Plato, Wittgenstein) and literature (Samuel Beckett, Proust). I have been told that having read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Baxter barrows much of his structure for this novel from this Shakespearean play) and Plato’s Symposium, could greatly enhance the enjoyment received from reading of this novel. I haven’t read any of those particular plays/novels, so, it may or it may not make for an interesting comparison. If you have, let me know what you think.

Thanks for the recommendation, you know who you are.

And I thought: Well I dunno, who cares, maybe she’s right, why argue. We got home, and we sat down on the sofa together, and she look so beautiful in the blue sweatshirt and the blue jeans she was wearing, no socks, just her sneakers, these rags, these gorgeous rags that she had made beautiful by wearing them, and the cap she had on, her gray eyes, the delicate way she moved, and in a sudden heedless rush I said, “Kathryn, I love you,” and she nodded, she acknowledged it, she didn’t say she loved me but I didn’t care and didn’t even notice that she hadn’t said anything in return until about four weeks later when she moved out. But on that day, she leaned into me. We held on to each other. Clutching. We must have stayed together in one posture just holding each other, there on the sofa, for maybe an hour. When you're in love you don't have to do a damn thing. You can just be. You can just stay quiet in the world. You don't have to move an inch.

Reviewed by Hubs @ 4:46 PM

Monday, July 15, 2002

Girls Guide To Hunting And Fishing by Melissa Banks ***

There has recently begun an increased interest or popularity among the “Cosmo reading” public for novels in this genre. After having read Bridget Jones's Diary and others, I consider myself fairly well read (for a white, twenty-something, male) in these recently fashionable novels describing the “young single female experience”. So far this one is the best that I have read and easily avoids the “Bridget factor”. Although Bridget Jones's Diary was very entertaining, Melissa Banks first novel is a far superior literary work and I look forward to reading more from her.

The novel is a collection of short stories with continuity preserved through a central character named Jane (a name which in my eyes was an attempt to make the character seem average and all-American) and her struggles with relationships, family, career, self understanding, mortality and love. The novel touches on many large issues and spans a great portion of Jane’s life, fourteen years old in the first vignette and thirty-something by the end. Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing is a quick and light read but cannot be dismissed as simple fodder. Its wittiness and entertainment value warrants a recommendation. Its subtlety, terseness, and sophistication make it a finer literary work than most in its genre. Melissa Banks has a great knack for writing concisely without losing any of the necessary poignancy. Banks writes with incredible wit and reality that creates a humorous yet grounded feel. The novel is not simply a roll on the floor outrageous date situation comedy. Her writing style is “…beautiful and funny and sad and true.” Bank’s characters are given both wisdom and naivete, making them seem truly human. However, the characters are severely underdeveloped and lack any real explored depth throughout the novel. Some of the novel seems disjointed due in part to its “episodic short story” type format and in part to the general jumpiness of the novel itself. The jumpiness is the result of an entire chapter in which the narrative is written in second person narrative, another chapter with seemingly unrelated characters¹, and large gaps in chronology. But this jumpiness didn’t seem to bother me and I thought the book flowed well despite it. The last chapter appealed to me especially due to the complete mockery made of The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, represented by Bonnie and Faith in the book. Proving the complete inadequacy and ridiculousness of the “self-help” book, Jane only succeeds when she stops manipulating and fully becomes only herself.

My mother told me about all the neighbors, going up one side of the street and then down the other. After she went upstairs to bed, what stayed with me wasn’t the good news – weddings or babies or scholarships – but the Caliphanos’ granddaughter living without her mother, Mr. Zipkin losing his job, and Mrs. Hennessy getting robbed. I sat out there on the porch, with a cigarette and another glass of wine, listening to the crickets and the occasional car. It occurred to me that the quiet in the suburbs had nothing to do with peace.

¹It seems many have been discouraged with how seemingly unrelated and discontinuous “The Best Possible Light” chapter is with the rest of the book. However, the careful reader will notice that both Nina and Ben Solomon are introduced as Jane’s grandmother’s downstairs neighbors at the beginnig of the previous “My Old Man” chapter, giving the novel more continuity than appears upon quick review.

Reviewed by Hubs @ 12:36 PM

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