By Annie Lowrey
Some sort-of spoilers ahead, for those not caught up. (By my count, we should be at page 150 by last Sunday, page 225 by next.)
Oh god. I knew it had to happen at some point. I knew it would be there, lurking among the fascinating diversions — and how diverting they are! — on robbers and diapers and tennis and the body architecture of athletic girls and Quebecois separatists and bug-trapping. It wouldn’t be entertaining. It would be grating. Nails-on-chalkboard grating. I got there. And wow, it was horrible.
My eyes glazed over, my temples started throbbing. I desperately yearned for the cool half-inch space of the paragraph tab or the refreshment of the apostrophe. I paused for a moment to ruminate on how important the conventions of grammar and punctuation are to our understanding of the written word. I couldn’t really bring myself to read from page 128 to 134. If something important happened, someone else will have to tell me. I skipped it. Starting about a hundred words in.
Phew. I’m happy I got that out of my system. Now, to relate it to the ongoing discussion, of aesthetics and the purposeful challenge of the book…
The multi-page drivel I just described irritated on many levels. It was, to use James Wood’s term, a hysterical moment of hysterical realism. If the rest of the work uses some sort of broken narration, this was back-broken. The new narrative voice felt lost in a fog of words. It was unprecedented in its weirdness. It was hard to read, literally — and I kept losing my place. It was, one one level at least, purposefully obnoxious, a trick the book plays on the reader, almost a dare to keep going. Yrstruly, I wanted to say, go fuck yrself.
What would keep one going through it? Well, maybe other readers are hardier than I. Maybe other readers believe that some nugget important to the emotional or narrative arc of the book was in there. Me? I’m counting on a big emotional and narrative payoff for wading through these aesthetics. I’m having a hard time with them.