This week has been a bit of a right-off (and a write-off). P and I have both been on leave but the week has just flown by with almost nothing to show for it. Monday’s a blur. Tuesday was Hospital Day. Wednesday was Betty’s Bay. Thursday is the day that Beauty works here, which is why I’m sitting outside the front door with P, who is now reading the latest copy of Woman & Home. This was supposed to be our week off (at the new, improved Betty’s Bay) but instead it has been largely taken up with concerns around my mom’s health.
I don’t really feel like re-hashing the whole hospital story right now since it’s been rehashed with the family quite a few times already. Basically the angiogram showed clogged arteries and the heart doctor put in a stent on the right side (where her pacemaker is) and we’re waiting to see how that will work out. She looks better and feels better but there are still some niggling concerns (such as blood clots). But for now (touch wood) she’s doing a lot better than she was last week. (I also realised that her health problems probably go a long way towards explaining why she was being a touch difficult.)
On the reading front, I really enjoyed The Brooklyn Follies and I think it’s an excellent example of polished fiction-writing. Charming, engaging, heart-warming and not too taxing. One of the reviewers commented that Auster is “at the top of his game” and that “this superb novel about human folly turns out to be tremendously wise”. I’ve never read Auster before so I can’t compare this to his better-known New York Trilogy. And tremendously wise? Perhaps, but there was nothing here that made me really sit up and take notice. I’m also not totally happy with it but am at a slight loss to say exactly why that should be.
Perhaps my main gripe has to do with the narrator, the eminently likeable Nathan or Uncle Nat. Now I know that fiction is not meant to stand up to the same rigours as real-life, and that of course things often work out a little too easily in fiction. Real life is messy, complicated, ambiguous and full of confusing questions and doubts for which there are conflicting answers. So what’s my gripe with Nathan? He’s just too nice, I think. If I compare his life before and after he came to Brooklyn, I’m struggling to believe that this is the same guy. The Nathan in the novel is wise, witty, charming, foolish at times but also warm, engaging and lovable. He’s almost a perfect stereotype of a wise uncle. But how to reconcile this warm Uncle Nat with the dissatisfied man who slaved away for 40 years as a life-insurance salesman, who was a “terrible husband” and whose ex-wife loathes him with palpable contempt? Now I’d be the first to admit that relationships are best understood by the two people in them and that the mere fact that his ex-wife loathes him doesn’t mean that he’s a bad guy. But the turnaround from lonely, crusty ex-husband to warm, family man isn’t entirely convincing. And Tom’s turnaround as well – from a depressed, overweight bachelor stuck in a dead-end job to a happily married man just looks too neat as well.
But perhaps that’s the thing with fiction. If everything falls more or less neatly into place and all the loose variables are paired off or rounded up, isn’t that what we want? Easily identifiable characters and dramatic events? It certainly works here.
Next up is a re-read of July’s People by Nadine Gordimer. I have very little recollection of this at all and I have mixed feelings about Gordimer but it looks short and do-able.