Well, we've all gotta die sometime. How are we going to do it? What happens afterwards? Who will remember us? This is the basis of Bellow's book Ravelstein. It's a purported biography that slips into autobiography. The narrator chronicles the death and life of his closest friend, an intellectual teacher and philosopher Ravelstein. Ravelstein is a Platonist, and also an atheist. He claims not to believe in an afterlife but often speaks as though he does. In his dying days he returns to religion and the problem of being Jewish in this modern and hostile world. He asks his best friend, a writer who is older than he to write a personal biography. The narrator/friend agrees, but delays the project for years until a sudden and debilitating illness confronts him with the nearness of his own death. Chick (the narrator) has said that after death he thinks the 'pictures will stop'; but he simultaneously possesses an irrational belief that he will see his family and friends in some sort of afterlife.
The good parts in the story are the descriptions of Abe Ravelstein - a big man who spent wildly, lived wildly - a man of both passion and intellect. I think the point of the book was in Ravelstein's preoccupation with great love, or searching for it. Completeness, not only desire. Living with a grand passion is more important than good and evil. Reading this makes me want to reread Plato.
There were a few odd things about the book: read as if written in the early nineties when AIDs was an inexorable scourge,and largely untreatable (Ravelstein was on AZT monotherapy) because it was published in 2000. On second thought, the speaker is writing a memoir of a deceased friend, and so the time-frame of the book is earlier. This book doesn't dwell though, on the reasons for and physical process of death, but on the mental and 'spiritual' journey toward it.
At any rate, you are meant to consider mortality. The finality of death. For those of us who don't believe in an afterlife this is simultaneously terrifying and wondrous.
Monday, June 19, 2006
The God Of Small Things. A small world of a book. Unbelievably poignant. Sad. Still. The winding, indirect method of narration is so true for so many family stories, where the main points are known, and what must be expanded are the details. Even though it seems like well-worn territory - the novel that revisits a traumatic childhood- this story felt true and right emotionally. I sometimes found the stylized language distracting, but on the whole it was lovely. Do I recommend it? I'm not sure. The larger story covered some of the same issues of caste and social discord that Mistry did in A Fine Balance, but more superficially. But the personal story was intricate and tuned. Still, I felt that it was incomplete in some way. Not only the open ending, but some of the people seemed incompletely fleshed out. Especially Ammu, who despite being perhaps the most elaborated on, seemed blurred and contradictory. For such a fighter she gave up with barely a whimper. And her death seemed almost too Dickensian. But a beautiful book.
Friday, June 16, 2006
The Law of Similars. Terrible book. Dull dialogue, insipid characters, unconvincing emotions, and slow and simplistic plot. Doesn't even get bonus points for including interesting information about homoeopathy (like you might get in a Crichton pulp) - you could get more and better from a Wikipedia article. And even the legal issues involved are nearly ignored although the protagonist is supposed to be a lawyer. Blah. I don't know why I finished it - I was hoping for a surprising twist at the end. If you want a more enjoyable way to waste your time try the old game of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - you'll be pulling out your hair, but in a good way.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Update: fabulous. hilarious. confusing. convoluted. Is it magical realism or schizophrenia? A few of my favorite parts: the tropicalization of London, Our Mutual Friend as a musical, terrible puns (Alleluia Cone's nickname is "ice queen"), the devil is concerned over his bad breath ...