Clearly, I Am Smarter Than Everyone Else

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment


The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt.

I often have delusions of grandeur, and with them come dreams of exceptionalism. I believe that my writing is, not only great, but wonderful (as in, filled with wonder) and awesome, meaning that which inspires awe. Ergo, when I have read a piece of work, I am completely confident in my perfect renderings of judgement.

Of course I am right. How could I be wrong?

I read The Sisters Brothers this week. This is the first “adult” book I’ve read in some time that isn’t genre fiction. That means almost less than nothing, but it’s important to keep these things in mind. Everyone has an audience they are writing to, if only because the logic of book-selling demands that the publishers market it in such a way.This isn’t some sort of hopeless, “there is no true creativity anywhere” rant, but rather the acknowledgement that the book business is indeed, just that. A business.

Until ebooks rule all, this picture is delightfully accurate

So SB, despite being critically-acclaimed and with the respectability that being in the “fiction” section imparts upon it, disappointed me. Clearly, this is a problem with the book. Clearly, this is not my failure to appreciate something wonderful before me, but rather the book’s inability to impress me.

You should see what I do with .mp3 files I don't like. I burn through hard drives quickly (doh ho ho).

Normally, this is not a problem. I am entitled to my own tastes and preferences. Certain things ring my bells, and certain things not only do not ring those bells, they also remind that those bells have not been rung. The silences can be deafening. In this case, then, when I say that SB left me unsatisfied, the image of a monastery that has taken a vow of silence should fill your mind. Picture the bells as they are inspected, carefully considered, maybe even tapped a bit with an inquisitive finger, but they were then demonstrably, defiantly, and definitely not rung.

But the friggin’ book won the Governor General’s award, the Rogers Writers trust award, and was a finalist for the Giller prize and the Man Booker prize. When my opinion is arrayed against literally ever Canadian author out there, I being to wonder if I’m wrong.

TIL there is a Mr. Men wiki. Why, internet. Why.

Note my use of “wrong”. I do not wonder if I didn’t read the book closely enough, or if because I come from a genre background, some things about book-writing which this does very well I just take for granted because I have no expectations; no, I wonder if I am wrong.

I normally only read reviews of books I don’t like because I want support in my criticisms. It’s sort of a paper shield. “Look,” I say, “look! I wasn’t wrong or blind! There are real flaws in this book, and it’s not just me that doesn’t like it!” It gives me a bit of credence in my judgement. When I find a reviewer that agrees with me, I feel more certain in my judgements.

Imagine my surprise, then, when no-one agrees with me about SB. The best I’ve gotten is the word I used, “unsatisfying”, from someone I work with. But you can ask anyone who’s read the book: it’s not meant to be completely satisfying. The very way it’s written removes certainty and defies completion. Further, the story satisfies where it must. His characters are pitch-perfect. Some of his lines knock the ball into the next park and back again.

It’s mad. It’s aggravating. It’s brilliant.

You know how you can tell whether a book is good or not? If it gets you thinking afterwards. Right now, I’m thinking about whether I just read a masterpiece of a novel, or the literary equivalent of barley wine. It’s close to the beer that I normally drink, and certainly different from the norm, but in the end unsatisfying.

Now, I don’t know what I thought of the Sisters Brothers. I’ll have to think on it. That, then, should give you your answer.

Next up: Solar Dance, by Modris Ecksteins. This means it’s a history week! Yayyy! I’ll forgive you all if you don’t share my enthusiasm, but I am sincere when I say that Walking Since Daybreak is the best piece of history I’ve ever read.



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