Sunday, June 12, 2011

Goon Squad, final thoughts

At my grandfather's wake, my sister said to me, "I keep looking at Grandma and thinking, in 25 years, Mom will be that old."

"And I'll be as old as Mom," I said.

That, in a nutshell, is what A Visit From the Goon Squad is about -- those moments when you feel the years that have gone by.

Goon Squad is, among many things, a triumph for feminism. I know there are many reasons women authors are rarely behind the next East of Eden, the next Infinite Jest, the next The Corrections. The first is outright discrimination. But I think a more significant reason is the way women are socialized from birth. I have been to so many panel discussions in New York where women panelists came off poorly because they were not only obviously nervous, but, worse, constantly apologizing for their work and making self-deprecating jokes. I do it. I don't mean to be accusatory. Women learn to provide emotional support and pick up after others. Men learn not to sweat the small stuff and to focus on big ideas.

I know all of this. And yet, there must have been a part of me that wondered whether women really were capable of doing everything men could. Otherwise, when I read Goon Squad, I would not have known for the first time that women can write novels that are 100% as equally impressive as those written by men. I haven't read Jennifer Egan's other books, but if they are of similar quality, I wouldn't say she's as good as David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen. I would say she's better.

You know how even if you don't agree with everything Barack Obama has done since he was elected (or ever I guess), there's a quality about him that seems too perfect to be real? You'll never catch him getting mixed up in a sex scandal, or choking on a pretzel, or puking on the prime minister of Japan. And do you know why that is? Because if he did things like that, he wouldn't have made it anywhere close to this far. Black people don't have as much leeway to fuck up, period, and so if a black man was going to be elected president, it's not because he's "as good" as white people, it's because he's twice as good at what he does. I think Jennifer Egan is the Barack Obama of Great American Novelists. Her work has all the sweep and ambition of the other novelists I was talking about, but with so much less ego and so much more discipline. Someone please, read the book and tell me if you agree.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lush Life, by Richard Price

Richard Price has written episodes of The Wire. I am one of those people who feel okay about saying The Wire is the greatest television show ever made, even though I haven't, you know, seen every television show ever made.

So I start reading Lush Life, which I salvaged from a friend's stoop sale box, and it's just not my speed at all. I can see the similarities to The Wire -- the characters from every aspect of life in a high-crime urban area are portrayed, lots of "gritty," lots of "real," plot looks like it's going to be pretty complicated and a little on the confusing side. Watching The Wire, I wasn't too concerned about figuring out who was who and who did what to who seven episodes ago and what that was about and etc. I just sort of let it unfold and figured I would figure it out sooner or later. I guess reading a book is different; I feel like if I don't keep track of the characters and the plot, I'm going to have absolutely no idea what's going on. And I guess I don't like the book enough to not mind the possibility of going back and reading it all over again.

Also in Lush Life, I feel like I'm supposed to be trying to figure out who the killer was. In The Wire, you usually know who the killer is; you're just watching all the stuff that happens around that happen, and maybe if you're the sort of person who likes to try to guess what will happen next, trying to figure out which bodies are going to drop next.

The other possibility is that in Lush Life I'm supposed to know who the killer is and I just didn't get what the hell was going on.

Further, there's an indescribable quality about Lush Life where the author seems to think he's being really clever knowing all these little things about life on the Lower East Side and all the different disenfranchised groups of people who live there. Like some 24-year-old suburban kid who feels all in the know when he or she is like oh, don't go down that block, crackheads hang out down there. Except I'm not saying he's not knowledgable. So far as I can tell, he is. The tone just really annoys me. The Wire seems to be saying: there's a tragedy unfolding here that no one knows how to stop. Where Lush Life is saying: look how street I am.

I haven't decided whether I'm really reading this book or not. I'm 80 pages in.