Thursday, December 29, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
I really liked Jeffrey Eugenides's first two novels, The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, so I was definitely eager to check out his third - which has received wonderful reviews. The novel follows several characters after their graduation from Eugenides's alma mater, Brown University. It centers around Madeleine, an intelligent, but co-dependent young woman, and her relationship with her bi-polar boyfriend Leonard. Completing the triangle is her sometimes friend, Mitchell, who is traveling the world to find himself and forget about her. The book flashes back to college, and forward to their current lives positing the relationships as love stories in comparison and contrast to the great marriage plot novels of the 19th Century. This book reminded me of all the fiction I've read by Jonathan Franzen - clever and well-written, but with extremely self-absorbed and annoying characters that define the term "first-world problems." Other than Leonard who seems to come from a troubled background and clearly suffers from a real mental illness, the other characters seem to suffer from general malaise brought about by their privilege and lack of imagination. Madeleine's belief that she can "save" Leonard is such a tired cliche that I kept expecting Eugenides to come up with some kind of twist on the narrative, but it never came. As a portrait of living life with someone with mental illness, I thought Eugenides probably portrayed everything quite acurately - the highs and lows, the selfishness, the drama, the fear - and this is something I found valuable to read in terms of the work that I do. But in terms of literature I want to identify with, with characters I actually care about, The Marriage Plot, like so many endings to Victorian novels, was a sad disappointment.
I am always trying to figure out what type of fantasy/science-fiction book I like. I am not really into space or time-travel per se (though I like the Ender's Game series and The Time Traveller's Wife). I like fantasy creatures (like elves and dragons), but not necessarily books where they completely take the place of humans. I like quests, but don't necessarily like battles (not into the Orcs from Lord of the Rings). I loved this book. And I realized, I think I just like magic. I like books where things are magical and where characters perform magic. And that is the basis of The Night Circus. Two master magician types place a bet that they can develop a protege to beat the other's protege. They don't specifically identify the time, place, or rules of the competition, but one day a circus arrives in town. It's been specially created to exhibit the most amazing and fantastcial talents - and it's not a circus of illusion, but of actual magic. This book gave me the same feeling I had reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this Way Comesi - the feeling of something unknown and wonderful coming to town. And within the circus there is love and competition and wonder and amazement, and it's all just so fun and inviting - like living in a Cirque de Soleil production. The problem with magic is that it doesn't have to have any boundaries. So, ultimately, the ending of any book like this is going to veer off into the simply impossible - and it's hard to criticize that becuase all along you've been suspending disbelief and agreeing to a world created out of the impossible. And so I just absolutely loved this book - all the way up until about the last 20 pages when it went a little too crazy for me - but I didn't really see any way to avoid the ending it had. It made me want to go out and get my tarot cards read in a dark room, by a strange woman in a costume, burning incense, and whispering enigmatic secretes. At Christmastime, when I still listen late at night for Santa's reindoor on my roof, it's nice to just let go and believe.