2014-03-18

I like baseball. I like young crushes. But I love you. And I respect death.

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021) Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist, finished March 14

I was scheduled to go under the knife today, but instead I postponed that in order to just go to work and, as it ends up, finish reading this novel as I walked here. (This is the first week I've ever taken the Nook out of the house and until I have some sort of wrist strap, I don't know that I will continue this process. Also, I think free epub or not, I may buy this book as a gift for my wife. Though many of our surface traits differ, this novel or marriage captures something ineffable about our own.)

Here's my AMV review (going up tomorrow). Here, though, I want to discuss the second-to-last chapter and whether or not it is a mistake or . . . not. Spoiler alert: I'm leaning mistake. I might approach the author later about the questions I raise here. If you don't want to know about the final pages of the novel though, click here.

La de dah.

La de dah de dah.

La lum.

Okay. All those people gone?

Onward!

The novel is, as the title suggests, love letters from one angel of death to another. You can get some more into why this earthy Mormon couple are angels of death, but, in a very literal sense, the husband---and narrator---is dead. So there's that. And he narrates the entire book. except for this penultimate chapter we're getting to. He seems to've been restored to a perfect knowledge of all things related to him and her and theirs---he knows details about her she does not know. Sometimes because she was too young to see herself so clearly, sometimes because things happened to fast, sometimes because emotions were too high, sometimes because they were simply too long ago. The details and loving eye with which he reads her life is moving.

Then, in the penultimate chapter, it is revealed to readers like me who should have seen it coming but did not, that he is dead. That's how he knows all this. It's not simply because of their years of marriage and emotional intimacy. It's because he no longer sees with the eyes of flesh.

And so the "reason" for the break in the final chapter is that he no longer can see her as clearly as he can see what's gone before. Okay. Ish. Maybe. But any argument you can make for that decision is undermined by the return to his speaking to her in second-person in the final chapter. There we learn that he sees her present less clearly as time goes by. But not so unclearly that he did not clearly see everything that happened in the chapter before. So why the heck the p-o-v switcheroo?

The previous chapter ends with some painfully beautiful explanations of how mothers and fathers sacrifice children into the world (I literally---and I know what literally means---was stunned at a couple points. I had to stop walking and take in what I had just---not merely read---experienced. And so the break in p-o-v allows the killer final line of the previous chapter hang in the air longer. Maybe. I mean, I can make that argument, but I'm not sure I believe it.

My best guess is that switching p-o-vs when revealing the narrator's death was to avoid waxing maudlin, but the whiplash ain't worth it. The switch back into his p-o-v is the bad kind of stunning and starts off embarrassingly epiloguey. Not to worry---Quist moves past the pat, just-so-ness of the opening paragraphs and finds the best possible ending sentence (even better than that ending the third-to-last chapter!), but I puzzle and I puzzle and I can come up with no decent reason to lapse into a traditional third-person narration for that third chapter. And even if there was a good reason, why not try on her point of view for a change? Isn't she an angel of death herself? Haven't we all but seen her wings?

Anyway. That's my big issue with the novel. I think it's still apt to get my vote for best novel in the general category in this year's Whitney's, but we'll see how that chapter sinks into my lasting impression. I don't think it can damage my otherwise powerfully positive feeling, but we shall see. We shall see.
a few pleasurable weeks



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020) The Iowa Baseball Confederacy: A Novel by W. P. Kinsella, finished March 12

Just as I read at least one scary book every October, I think I'll have to start reading at least one baseball book every spring. (Baseball's the only sport with enough good literature to support such a habit. Which is no coincidence. See A. Bartlett Giamatti's Take Time for Paradise if you doubt it's the sport's artistic value.) This particular book I picked up free (huzzah!)---and based on my recent viewing of Field of Dreams (based on another Kinsella book) and the explicit recommendation of NYU's president, I decided to read it even though I have waaaay too many other books going just now.

I'm glad I did. There were a few moments that the magical realism went to far (the appearance of Leonardo) or at first seemed to go to far (the animation of the Black Angel), but overall the magic works. Absurdity is an inherent part of all sport (and art and religion and every other worthy human pursuit), and embracing that absurdity is valuable. I have three baseball novellas in the writing or the planning, and now I think I need to think about writing a magical one as well.

Consider this novel for your own future Spring Trainings.
at most a month but surely less



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019) The Complete Peanuts: 1989 - 1990 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 11

Another terrific pair of years. But I'm a little freaked out that the marble story isn't there. I have clear memories of reading the marble story and cutting out the strips and collecting them when my family lived in Clovis and I was in junior high. But that era is over and the marbles have not appeared.

Memory, suffice it to say, is hella unreliable.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

In other news, Lemony Snicket's introduction is a work of genius. He really is one of my favorite thinkers on art. And he captures Peanuts as well or better than any other intro to date.
over a month



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018) Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poppypants by AUTHOR, finished Dav Pilkey

Yep. Another one.
a few days




Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Books 14 - 17
017) Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers by Dav Pilkey, finished February 22
016) Who Was Jim Henson? by Joan Holub, finished February 18
015) The Reluctant Blogger by Ryan Rapier, finished February 15
014) The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell, finished February 14

Books 10 - 13
013) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, finished February 12
012) Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown, finished February 5
011) The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, finished January 27
010) The Complete Peanuts 1987-1988 by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 25

Books 6 - 9
009) Heat by Mike Lupica, finished January 22
008) Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel, finished January 21
007) Impasse by Kohl Glass (story by Jason Conforto), finished January 16
006) Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, finished January 16

Books 1 - 5
005) The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen, finished January 12
004) Pokémon Black and White, Vol. 1 by Hidenori Kusaka and Satoshi Yamamoto, finished January 10
003) Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hick, finished January 7
002) The Drop by Michael Connelly, finished January 7
001) The Rejection Collection, Vol. 2 edited by Matthew Diffee, finished January 6

1 comment:

  1. The POV switch did not bother me. I did not see a reason for it, but it did not bother me. I was pretty sure one of them was going to die, but I thought it was going to be her, and the novel was him writing to her after she was gone. Good job pointing out how he could know things in such detail about her past. I really, really loved this novel.

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