grist

 

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
I have been doing much reading of late, but little writing--often the case when I find myself bewildered as I have been of late. Bewildered is too mild a word for what I am, but never mind. I tend to write best when I have a kind of focused curiosity--what will he do next? How can these pieces fit together? What happens if? I tend to read as a means of broader exploration--what kinds of questions are interesting enough to spend some time one--I find fodder in reading, and, after a fashion, answers.

People often try to explain the purpose of reading. I have never been in the measured camp of aesthetes who believe the function is some sublime apprehension of craft, some celebration of mimesis, or some equally pretentious and bloodless nonsense. I read because I know little, understand little, and hope in books to understand more. I am shameless in rooting out little bits that inform my own experiences, that shed light on my own struggles and questions. This is often denigrated as a primitive reason to read--if so I am a primitive. Books must have some blood in them for me, and if they do it is because they connect to my own experience of the human--they expand my understanding of people and what is possible, how to bear pain, what dignity might be, and faith. That as a means of saying I have been more bewildered than usual of late--and so more reading than writing, but here is the first catch-up.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme is a rich and strange book that I liked a great deal--it is a book with great strengths and some pronounced weaknesses, but ambitious in a way that I respect and successful on its own terms in a way that I admire.

The minor bad: there were a few false notes--story elements thrown in for narrative convenience that never seemed to be true--how Kerewin got her money, or her extraordinary fighting skills--these seemed too easy and not a part of the whole.

The major good: The book as two real triumphs--one is the interplay between Kerewin, Simon and Joe: Hulme keeps them so alive to each other and to us--their edges, their powerful and incomplete affections, the gaps between their feelings and their actions. This alone would make it extraordinary. The second is both a triumph and, at points, wearying--that is the language itself. The story skips around--Kerewin loves wordplay--and the story text varies between the straightforward and the poetic (and the Maori). Mostly I found this excellent--a whole and complete means of expression only lightly tethered to other writing, and using its new linguistic and narrative terrain to real advantage. There were a few points where it dragged, felt overlong and I felt myself skimming to get past it and back to the story.

The major less-good: I felt that the book lost its way a little after the final beating of Simon. First it seemed unnecessarily brutal--did he need his skull caved and implants to be able to hear? I felt something underneath or outside of the story intruding there--like it had to match up to some unarticulated reality that I didn't find in the story itself. And then each of their journeys back had more unresolved and unsatisfying mysticism in them (and I am a big mystic).

But the end pulled together and some digestion has made the books strengths considerably overshadow its weaknesses: 4 stars

Here's the opening:
He walks down the street. The asphalt reels by him.
It is all silence.



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