Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Death Match

The Deathmatch has begun over at Broken Pencil and I am looking forward to my own quarter final round match, which begins on Feb. 10th. I am ambivalent about the whole thing, but with slightly more anticipation than dread.

The dread is not about having people say things about me or my story. First of all, who cares what anybody thinks about me. Second, I am not sure I trust their judgement on fiction--but that's only so far, seeing what's been written about so far in the comments section.

But what can you say about it, when for some reason we celebrate Jodi Picoult-type fiction as literary? It works its way right down to the so-called indie presses, where things are celebrated as "edgy" because there is someone in there drunk or having sex. A long time ago my English teacher in high school told us every generation thinks they invented sex, and I see more and more that he's right.

On the first page of a recent celebrated novel--the first page after the faux-poetic opening--you find this phrase: "the bile of curses that pour from my mouth . . . " This is cliched, empty writing, but we celebrate it. Orwell's advice, maybe every good writer's advice, to avoid phrases you have heard before, would really help this book out. Bile is such an overused word and maybe this use is only new in that it isn't that most cliched use, where the bile rises in the throat, though I expect that phrase occurs later in the novel. Another trick this novel uses is the present tense as a way to make the ordinary seem urgent.

Anyway, I have made an effort to read this book, and the plot seems interesting, but in the end I just cannot care enough to even speed-read it; the letting the overwrought sentences pad the novel and bore me. So when Nicholson Baker's novel Travelling Sprinkler arrived in the mail I switched to that, and am amazed that this book about one contemporary man's mundane life is so much more compelling than this other historical plot-driven text.

It will take a little time to figure that question out. I stayed up and read half of the Baker novel, really enjoying it, but feeling nostalgic for the first novel of this hero, Paul Chowder, the Anthologist, which I loved. So far this one isn't quite as good, but that's just my first, quick, impression.