Saturday, October 29, 2011

Two Books I Did Not Like

Snow Falling on Cedars
Snow Falling on Cedars 

“That the world was silent and cold and bare and that in this lay its terrible beauty”   David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars

This historical mystery novel covers the treatment of the Japanese in the Pacific Northwest during WW2 when out of prejudice they were interred in camps. The author, David Guterson, handles this disgraceful episode in American history within the format of an excellent murder mystery. The story is set in 1950s on Washington's remote San Piedro Island and begins with a mysterious death of a fisherman. Kabuo Miyamoto is accused of the fisherman's murder, suspicion aroused more out of the post-war distrust of Japanese-Americans than anything else. To complicate this, the town's newspaperman, Ishmael Chamber, must deal with his own feelings from childhood for his love of Kabuo's wife, Hatsue.  Unfortunately, I found this to be a mediocre read, somewhat tedious and predictable.  I was particularly not impressed with the attempt to create a historical setting.

The Hours
The Hours 

“One always has a better book in one's mind than one can manage to get onto paper.”  ― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

I found this book derivative and uninteresting. Borrowing the names and key traits of the characters from Mrs. Dalloway, Michael Cunningham interweaves versions of the two plots of the Virginia Woolf novel with imagined scenes of Woolf herself at work on the book. The result, written in lyrical prose that evokes Woolf's and set variously in 1980s Greenwich Village, 1940s Los Angeles, and Woolf's London, did not succeed in its attempt. I was not impressed with the attempt to combine a contemporary story with Virginia Woolf's literary life - the details broke the stylistic mood that was almost successful in mimicking Woolf's classic prose.  There is a tension created by Cunningham's approach to Woolf that I could not overcome. If you want to experience Virginia Woolf read Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse.

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wwhidden said...

Are there many American writers that you think are not derivative, predictable, simple, and wordy?

James said...

Surely there are many -- both great like Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor and merely good like O'Hara or Ozick. There are also the lesser known greats like John Williams or Guy Davenport. The books that I truly do not like are a small portion of my total reading so I seldom complain. These two stand out because of their popular success which flies in the face of what I consider fundamental weaknesses.