Friday, January 18, 2008

Notes on a Few Books

I'd been waiting for quite some time to get the audio version of Valerie Plame's book, Fair Game, about her life in the CIA. I was all hyped up, ready to dredge up all that righteous indignation that bubbles just beneath the surface of my consciousness so often these days. The minute I slid the first disk in the car's system I knew I was in trouble. The disclaimers came fast and furious as listeners were advised that whenever the author came to a section of the story that the CIA had "vetted" we would hear a low hum. Of course, the ENTIRE book is made up of low hums, to the point that the story is so disjointed that one can get absolutely no sense of it. I was hugely disappointed and wondered why I hadn't bothered to read any reviews of the audiobook ahead of time. I have since discovered that all of the reviewers warned readers of this disconcerting censorship. Your government dollars at work!

I was chatting with several of my colleagues at our quarterly Saturday evening get together about the book I just finished by Ian McEwan. On Chesil Beach is a deceptively tidy little book that is so deftly written that the actions of two people on one evening seem to define an entire era in history. The time is 1962. Remembering what my friends and I were doing back then at our 8th grade graduation parties, I did have a little bit of trouble buying into the idea of Edward and Florence, college-educated adults, and both still angst-filled virgins on their wedding night. But anyone familiar with McEwan's other work understands that he has a way of pulling you so deeply into the story that it's easy to suspend disbelief.
The old saying "actions speak louder than words" does not apply here. Edward and Florence each keep up a stream of consciousness type thought process that the reader is allowed to follow, even as we watch them act completely contrary to what each is thinking. McEwan used this amazingly effective tool to illustrate how a small crack in a relationship can be quickly elevated to a schism when there is a lack of honest communication.
McEwan's book always have, at least for me, a dark, somber thread running through them and, as I'm reading, I'm always waiting for the other shoe to fall. I know that he's not above creating a bad end for his characters. The problem is that I must be getting hard in my old age because I never really like his characters. Think of Enduring Love, Saturday and certainly, Atonement. ( Even the lovely Keira Knightly couldn't create a Cecelia I could warm to)
From a technical point of view McEwan's writing is perfection itself, but if it's people you grow to know and love, go back to Richard Russo.

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