Let me preface this by saying that I really like Michael Cunningham. I’ve read The Hours more than a dozen times, and am, in fact, constantly involved in re-reading it. It just sits next to my bed, and I read a few pages every now and again, and when I finish, I start over.
When his latest came out, I was thrilled, and B bought it for me in a nice shiny hardcover.
And then I realized my worst fears had come true:
A literary author was doing a whole book of genre.
It’s a three-part story, the first being a ghost story, the second some sort of crime or mystery story, and the third… a science fiction story.
Perhaps I’m supposed to be surprised that
1. The ghost is… in the machine!!!
2. Terrorists are… children!!!
3. Robots… are people too!!!
I figured that once I got to the end of the book, it would all make sense to me. I would see some sort of Grand Pattern besides the obvious repetition of the bowl, men & machinery, and lots of Walt Whitman quotes.
Whereas the linking in The Hours was slightly more subtle (in fact, the parts that bugged me the most were when he tried to make it UNsubtle – the ending was too neat a connection, and I don’t know that we needed long passages from Mrs. Dalloway in the Mrs. Brown sections, but hey), this one pretty much layered them on thick and then… ended.
Now, for a literary novel, maybe that would be Ok. Well, no, it wouldn’t, cause it had no resonance. It didn’t hang together. And when you’re doing genre, you expect certain conventions. You expect the ghost to be exorcised. You expect the crime to actually be solved. You expect some sort of rousing Science! adventure and illumination of the human condition. And, because you’re being given all three together, they better have an internal resonance beyond the very obvious “all the characters have the same name,” and “there’s this bowl,” and “There’s some Whitman quotes.”
They need to sing at the subtle subtext level, not the blandly obvious.
And The Guardian found somebody to do a blandly obvious review of it that reads like it was written by an eighteen-year-old for a class project. And even s/he remarks at the end: “the issues are so close to the surface that the narrative feels like shallow waters overlying the reefs and shoals of Philosophy 101.”
Yea. Like having somebody say “Look! See the connections!” and you want to bang them over the head with the damn glass bowl and go, “So what?”
Maybe it’s my bias against lit writers trying to do genre, but you know, I’ve read some Margaret Atwood, and she doesn’t totally bug me. This didn’t totally bug me either, but it also had no real resonance for me, unlike, say, an Atwood, or a genre writer doing lit fiction, like, say, Harrison’s Light. Those hung together for me, and created something more than their parts.
This was really just disjointed parts.