On Abandoning Novels

As a reader, I mean. I haven't every attempted to write one, a poem of three or four pages being about as long as I have been able to extend a literary structure. But after years of not reading novels very often, I have been on something of a roll lately. I had looked forward this spring to two in particular, Richard Powers' Operation Wandering Soul & Phillip Roth's The Great American Novel. I gave up on each for similar reasons: they're full of set piece comedy & love-me-I'm-an-asshole characters. To put it in something closer to critical terms, neither novel was able to establish a bond of sympathy for either its characters or its situation. Powers lost me with the misanthropy of his central character (no doubt to be redeemed in the last hundred pages) & his overly clever writing. Roth lost me with the whorehouse scene where guys go to be bathed, dressed in diapers & treated like an infant. It was probably funny, or at least "daring," in the sixties, but it just seemed dumb. I pushed on a bit, to a scene where a last-place major league baseball team -- it's a baseball novel -- plays an exhibition against the inmates of an insane asylum. Both narratives traffic in emotional clichés & literary exhibitionism.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “On Abandoning Novels”

  1. I don’t read novels or long books, although I did read Sidney Blumenthal’s 900 page book on the Clinton years, the Clinton Wars. However, to your point, I read 92 percent of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and quit. The phantasmagoric world Rushdie dwelt in eventually war me out.

    thelrd in TEXAS

  2. Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer is probably my favorite work of fiction. I’ve easily read it 15 times and can reliably return to it annually. His earlier work was a lot more frisky but in later years he has grown deadly serious.

    I read Satanic Verses out of a sense of obligation to liberty and the freedom to read, and I read several of his other novels, but I also find his universe to be hard to join.

    In recent years I’ve enjoyed reading the novels of Iris Murdoch. Much of it I don’t get, but I love reading about a world that has so much more texture than most novelist bother to explore.

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