Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ten Years in the Hills!

I know, I know. The actual title of Jane Smiley's latest offering is Ten Days in the Hills, but listening to those 20 discs I felt like I had signed my life away. Yet every time I decided to give up on it, Smiley would grab me with a great discussion of the war in Iraq as opined by Elena, the conscience of the disparate group inexplicably spending these ten days in Max's house in the Hollywood hills. Suzanne Toren's beautiful performance of the book on CD was likely another reason why I stayed with it longer than I should have. At one point I actually cheated and logged on to Amazon just to read others' reviews of the book. I kept thinking I was missing something but, no, I wasn't alone in finally saying "who cares?"

I'm not saying that the writing isn't great because, with Smiley, it always is. She's perennially a book club group favorite. I love her sense of sardonic humor and she uses it liberally here. There's plenty of sexual activity going on, but I'm sorry to say that it isn't the least bit titillating. On the contrary, the characters all seem to make love with one clinical eye on a mirror analyzing each other's responses.

Some of you know that I teach a workshop on Readers' Advisory skills and one of the things I talk about is why we read. In an exercise in which a reader is interviewed about The Bridges of Madison County, she explains that, although she wasn't initially drawn to the book, everyone was talking about it so she felt she had to give it a go. That was the same situation going on with me. I'd even read that Smiley's book was a take on Boccaccio's Decameron. I confess, I think that's a bit of a pretentious stretch. However, if you have ten days to spend with a group of rather self-absorbed, navel- gazing Hollywood has-beens, then by all means read this book. If not, there's plenty of other fish in the sea.


Infobabe said...

Several years ago I had a book discussion about "A Thousand Acres." The discussion series was still "Read a Good Movie Lately" so I may have inherited the choice. In any event, I had a stranger in my midst and at the end of the discussion, she revealed herself to be Jane Smiley's mother. That's my only experience with a Jane Smiley novel. I can tell you she researched the Sears model of pre-fab house the family in "A Thousand Acres" bought, because I found the ad and floor plans for it. Jane's mother was suitably impressed! Sometimes in novels I find that strong, smart characters of integrity are not written with a passionate/emotional/erotic component and I wonder if the author is afraid that if it's not clinical (as you described) it has the "taint" of romance.

Sallyb said...

Now that you say that I remember you telling us about having Jane's mother in your bdiscussion. I remember when Linda had Alice McDermott's mother-in-law in one of her book discussions.
I think it's unfair of them to not let on who they are right up front but maybe they're afraid of intimidating us.
So...I know I'm being a crank but I'm waiting for a book that really gets to me (in a good way) and this one just didn't. Did you read/like it?'Maryellen did and I believe Sheldon did too. I'm reading The Maytrees now. I'm really looking forward to writing a positive review for a change.