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Sunday, November 28, 2004
Midnight's Childrenby Salman Rushdie (did you need me to tell you?) is an excellent book that only selectively engaged me. Some of its excellencies: the core image of the children born in the hour after midnight being joined by a diverse set of magical powers, including the telepathic joining through the narrator; the overlapping narratives begun with a startling and peculiar image (that felt mannered at the start, then overdone, but finally won me over with its sheer exuberance); the story of a doctor's seduction through a sheet with a hole--seeing a different part of his beloved each visit as he summoned to diagnose a new ailment; the ruination by the monkeys; the trip into the jungle; there are lots of these--imaginative, sharply written, lovely.

And yet...his imagination takes odd turns that I can't absorb into the overall narrative--that make no clear sense and yet return again and again--the relentless emphasis on snot--Saleem getting his powers triggered by the flow far up into his sinuses; the villainous Shiva with his murderous knees--knees? prehensile knees? I can't even understand what that might look like--and couldn't ever manage to summon fear in the imagining of it.

So the reading went in and out--drawn into one story and then another, then scratching my head a little as I tried to figure out if there were an allegorical reason behind a jarring note. 3 stars

I also spent a few hours at big, bland bookstores trying to be struck by something to read next--thinking a lot about what I ought to read--the stacks of shoulds--do I need to read Naipaul? Amos Oz? What about the minor works of people who have written something I thought tremendous (what else of Saramago's? Faulkner? DH Lawrence?) I settled on Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory and powered through it. Greene has great craft at moving the story forward effortlessly, economically. The book, like his others, is short; he keeps a steady tension up and the story turning and turning and rarely coming to rest.

The book itself had less meat than The Heart of the Matter or The End of the Affair; the flight of the unnamed whiskey priest had some moments of real majesty and lots of struggle, but there did not seem to be as much at stake. It seemed a little like there was some context missing--like the Communist subtext might have lost some resonance.

By the end, his struggles came to resemble Beckett more than any of the other books--protracted struggles that by their very persistence come to take on meaning and resonance. I can still feel the digestion of the book happening, so perhaps I will improve my opinion with a little more time. 3 stars.



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