When Good Authors Write Boring Books

I’ve been having quite a time finding a good book after reading Delicate Edible Birds.  I’ve made an attachment and I just don’t want to let go.  I thought for sure going back to some of my first loves would break the spell and I’d be back to reading insatiably again.  Ehhhhh. It’s taken two weeks for me to get through two of my favorite writers:  Lorrie Moore and Anne Enright.  Usually, I can fly through an Anne Enright novel.

I mean come on, this is the women who just a month ago stabbed right through me with The Gathering and I spent a year sitting up in bed, well into the night, reading Yesterday’s Weather.  Literally, a year.  That book had so much flesh, I was drowning in pores, and characters and quotes that I thought “this is the meaning of life.”  That was also the year, and more so the season, when my writing picked up speed and I won a few undergraduate awards.  I can only thank Enright for introducing me to the sensual way of forming a sentence.  I know that sounds like…word erotica, or word porn, but it’s true.  Anne Enright can write a sentence that makes your whole body quake.   I was pencil compulsive when I read that (it’s a disease) just so I knew I had a tool to write down everything I loved about every little paragraph in my word-journal (I know this means we have come to a new level of nerdiness, and I’m sorry you’ve been forced to join me on this outer-space mission).

The Forgotten Waltz

And then you read, The Forgotten Waltz and you’re like..wait, did Elizabeth Berg write this? Now don’t get me wrong, ever so often Elizabeth Berg with her romance novel masked in literary love story isn’t such a bad thing.  The woman can’t electrify you or anything, but she can keep you moving, keep you scanning – whatever it is you do to her books.  But, let’s be honest, she probably isn’t going to write the next Man Booker.

I think Anne Enright has set herself atop the wooden stool in my head, with her crown and her dainty Irish shoes and now I can’t seem to fathom that she wouldn’t write some sort of masterpiece.  And yet, The Forgotten Waltz, an anti-romance novel with a cover of literary dress.  I’m so disappointed.  I don’t think this was necessarily a bad book, but it wasn’t wonderful either.  It was a book you finish and you go to your paper scrap list of things to do and scratch it out saying, “well, got that done.”  I wasn’t escaping into the dark with it, or reading it at the kitchen table during dinner, or waking up with it laying in my hands.   It was more like I watched my cat lay on it and got on my computer to scope out people through google, and read other book blogs.  It was a marathon, not a sprint.  And sometimes, that’s a good thing, then times like this, you’re ready to just put the book out of it’s misery and never finish it.

Yesterday’s Weather deserved the year I spent with it, deserved our love affair that I refused to let go of for months after, like a teenager, Taylor Swift love song.  Even the cover of Yesterday’s Weather told a better story.  Honestly, I’m not even sure I understand this cover of The Forgotten Waltz which means whoever designed it, and took this picture, didn’t understand the book either.   It wasn’t that the book was totally missing in plot – it certainly had a plot, but the plot was more like a string of events that puts a person somewhere else.  It’s like Wizard of Oz, but without apple trees that throw their fruit, and flying monkeys, and for heaven’s sakes no lollipop guild?

Here’s the plot: Girl is married.  Girl meets man who is sort of interesting.  Girl works with man formally and professionally on business project.  Girl starts sleeping with man who is married and lives down the street from her sister, but still it is (in her mind) strictly professional.  Girl leaves husband after her mother dies.  Man leaves wife by end of book, but never really leaves wife metaphorically.  Girl ends up second fiddle always to child and therefore to wife.  Girl ends book by shopping with man’s daughter.

Because what better way to end a book than taking a want to be mother (and main character) and sending her off with her pseudo step-daughter to buy lipgloss?  WTF.

People on goodreads.com who gave it five stars are telling me that it is the unraveling of a life due to an affair.  And I admit, of the times I’ve had an “affair” although it would be more like “college cheating,” I did have some of the same thoughts as the main character.  Did I stalk the guy? No.  Did I let him ruin every good thing I had somehow created in the last bit of my life? Halfish.  I don’t know, while it was a real story, with something raw and actual, it wasn’t told that way.  The narrator had no emotional connection to her own story.  I understand the sudden blankness someone can feel after they make a decision to change everything about their current situation.  (Usually pertaining to a bad decision).  I know the scramble effect of fixing it, or the knowledge that you’ve made the wrong choice.  With the betrayal coming to light, even then the main character sort of dazed and confused accepted responsibility and left.  I was disappointment with her lack of effort towards any one corner (either male, new job, her own mother) and I don’t feel like the circumstances in her life strung together all that well.

Sub-plot(s): Her mother passes away (although she rarely calls her mom and sticks with Joan) and the man she cheats with has a daughter who may or may not have seizures.  We aren’t really sure, I got the feeling that the narrator wasn’t connected enough to the family, or the child to really understand how it affected them.  Neither of these, at all really, connect to the main plot of her anti-scandalous affair.

Disappointment reigns.

Birds of America - Lorrie Moore

Then, Lorrie Moore, who I love.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Enright as well (probably more), but in my life Lorrie Moore is a classic.  I think all of the things you love about a normal Lorrie Moore collection of stories or books like: wit, her literary jokes or literary circle stories, her handling and sculpting of words are completely and totally lacking in this collection of stories.  When I picked this up at the library, I thought I’ll read both of these collections with birds in the title and they’ll both blow my mind.  How wrong was I?

While Delicate Edible Birds completely changed the way I’ll read (or maybe write) a short story, Birds of America made me want to throw something, or rip the pages out one by one, very slowly, so they surely felt the pain.  I don’t even know what happened here really.  I’ve always liked Lorrie Moore for being subtle.  She never had to put on a grand play, fill the costumes with lace, and glitter, and ruffles, but just stand there with her pale skin and brown hair and say, “this is a story, read it.”

Her stories have always been relevent to everyday life no matter what setting, they’ve always managed to throw in literary puzzles of how studying English works, or how it’s like to live with a writer, or what it’s like when you are a writer and your child has Cancer and yet you can’t even mouth a word about it.  Her stories are quiet, and understated, but delicate in the perfect way.  Maybe she took it too far in this book?  Maybe each story is too understated, too nonchalant, too little.

The thing I find interesting about this whole Bird debacle is that Lauren Groff was a student of Lorrie Moore’s at Wisconsin.  They’re both Badgers.  And yet, somehow I’m seduced by Groff’s Birds and their soft cooing (like carrier pigeons of delicate, edible words) and Moore has written a book using those tiny birds that hop through airport terminals and refuse to fly.  She’s created a pelican of a story collection; awkward, big, and quiet.  I think it truly is a lack of seduction.  Lorrie Moore didn’t force me to look, or read.  She didn’t force me to keep chugging, keep moving.  I was dipping my toe in the water occasionally rather than diving in and forgetting I was in the water.  With Groff, I’m a mermaid, with Moore, I’m a victim.  I don’t know.  I can’t stop speaking in metaphor even for a minute because once again I’m entirely disappointed.  And this is coming from a person who in 2013 is hoping to apply to Wisconsin so I can sit under the throne of Lorrie Moore.  I’m a fan.

These haven’t been my most well written reviews.  They were frustrating.  These are two authors that I would eat a large amount of pig to meet for two minutes, or ham, or something disturbing in all the right ways.  And yet, neither of them measured up for me this time around.

I can still recommend them, just neither of these books really.

I’m going to read a few stories from Moore’s hit Self-Help and then dabble in some Yesterday’s Weather and see if this angst-riddled little mood turns around.

What are you all reading? Anything spectacular to change my tune?

2 thoughts on “When Good Authors Write Boring Books

  1. ClaireMcA says:

    After flying through ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ – a kind of fable, I’ve been struggling with long days, the need for glasses and a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, where I haven’t yet made it to her chapter, got past the colonial history of Burma and I’m now in the reign of her father and waiting to meet the Lady herself. I want to finish it and then go see the movie.

    Roll on Christmas when I can indulge in fiction again, looking at ‘Cutting for Stone’ by Abraham Verghese or the big fat Murakami next I think.

    • Cassie says:

      The popular 1Q84 Murakami?! Let me know how that is because everyone’s told me it’s repetitive and I’m honestly scared to pick it up. Can’t wait to read your review of the fable though.

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