13 September 2011

Spending time with terrible people.

Having put Brothers Karamazov finally behind me--which I know, classic etc. Grand Inquisitor etc. "an onion" etc. but gosh, as a novel I just wanted to punch it in the face--I read two novels this weekend! Both, as it turns out, center on awful human beings, but there, as they say, the similarities end.

Bonnie Nadzam's debut, Lamb, comes out today, and There Will Be Talk. Because it's essentially the chronicle of a 54-year-old man's seduction of a freckled, friendless 11-year-old girl. For me, this elicits a basic question about my relation to art: can I say I "liked" a story that made my skin crawl from beginning to end? I don't think so, if I define "like" as synonymous with "enjoy," and consider them both contingent on pleasurable feelings...but I am well aware that these are not the only possible definitions. And conversely, I don't wish to say I "disliked" Lamb--the prose is gorgeously spare, the incidental hymn to the Rockies (almost) makes me want to go camping, the pacing is steady and assured. And Nadzam chooses to concentrate less on the physical aspects of the relationship than the emotional and material manipulation that ties predator and victim together--the interior sense of foreboding and menace is a perfect example of the novel's strengths as an art form. If you don't mind being disturbed, absolutely, go for it.

And if you have ever described your sense of humor as "sick"? You must have a go at The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, whose first-person narrator Rosa is one of the most obliviously despicable black-comic protagonists ever. I mean, in the first chapter alone, she forces her pregnant 17-year-old daughter (whom she hates anyway, because she's sullen & ugly) to undergo several attempts at a home abortion...none of which are successful. But her granddaughter, Aminat, turns out to be the apple of her eye, and she determines to win her beloved little girl the best life imaginable, no matter who she has to crush to do it. Vain, nasty, abusive, and often deluded, Rosa is also hilarious--a true feat on Bronsky's part! Yes, this one I Liked. Because of the LOLs, and then the sudden shocks as I re-remembered that I was being entertained by a monster. Also, maybe I should track down some recipes.

Oh! Also read the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways comic, which fits in pretty well with the accidental theme, as it's about a group of kids who discover that their parents are literal supervillains. I quite liked it. I've heard there's a point where the series goes off the rails, though--can anybody head me off before I disappoint myself?

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