Friday, May 18, 2012

First Date with Russell Banks

One of my goals for 2012 is to read more novels by Russell Banks. I have only read The Sweet Hereafter, but my memories of it are very strong. Elegant but simple prose, a story that engaged at the deepest levels, a straightforward, haunting quality. I’ve been looking forward to reading his most recent release, Lost Memory of Skin, and this week, I finally had time.

I did not love the book. If my reading experience could be compared to a first date, it would go something like this:

Guy walks in, looks great, all indications of a tight physique and practiced manners. We order drinks and he begins to talk about himself. Soon, my attention begins to wander. Appetizers are brought; he’s still droning on. He’s telling me all sorts of things about all sorts of people and places, with lots of detail about each thing but me with no clear idea of where it’s going. The main course: like the instruments in an orchestra, the lines of his story begin to come together and I feel optimistic. Momentum builds. But then, as the preliminary parts did, the crescendo goes on for much too long. It's ambiguous, frustrating. A final twist feels forced, gimmicky, like an overly-sweet dessert. I begin to nod off before the coffee arrives…

In the following days, I have grown to appreciate some of the poignancy of his themes and the scope of his story. I've continued to think about it and that says something. There were moments of tenderness and desperation, and the ending seemed right. Because of this and because he did, after all, look good coming in, I’ll go on a second date. Next up, Continental Drift.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka