Lately in Reading

1

I hadn’t expected much from Here’s the Kicker (Mike Sacks), I suppose because it’s a book of interviews. There’s something about that format that I’ve always resisted (too pat? too repetitive?), but now I question why.

Because this is a fantastic book. A hilarious, fascinating, surprisingly informative book, not least because Sacks has done his research and asks all the right questions. In short, I loved everything in it and about it.

Also: Mike Sacks, apparently you went to my high school? With my brother? Which I did not know until after I had finished—and recommended the book to my brother. Who had already read it.

2

Remember how I loved Darin Strauss’s memoir? I read his most recent novel, the chillingly titled More Than It Hurts You. And . . . not as good. Because not quite as honest? (In his memoir, he reports realizing that he had written three novels dancing around his real subject, which is that when he was a teenager, he accidentally hit and killed a schoolmate while driving.)

The novel raises an interesting craft question for me: Can a story work if the author is much more aware than his characters? In other words, in MTIHY, Strauss is working with a husband and a wife, the first of whom is oblivious and the second (we soon learn) deranged.

And we never really root for them. Almost from the outset, we see where they have gone wrong, and we’re just waiting for these mistakes to play out—as opposed to feeling their world come apart with them, inside of that world, and feeling as lost as they do about how to make it right.

True, there’s a third character, a doctor, with whom we do align. But in that case, shouldn’t she be the protagonist?

3

I’m about 100 pages into Joyce Carol Oates’s memoir, A Widow’s Story. I had my reservations, especially given Joan Didion’s genre-defining Year of Magical Thinking, also about the initial stages of widowhood. But the Oates is wonderful, too. And different, naturally, as she is a very different writer.

What I am struck by in the Oates is the intimacy and the incrementality, the minute-to-minute spikes of panic and plummeting sorrow, the flashes of thoughts in a ticker-tape, the thousands of tiny hammers of grief. The writing is so detailed as to be almost pointilist—relentless in the way that feeling, and experience, can be.

Thanks to both of these women for diving into that well.

Leave a Reply