Escape (from) artistry

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: “Life is too short for shitty novels.” Years ago, I tried to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and found myself bored silly. I gave up at the 100-page mark or thereabouts, and said, “If you write a novel about comic books, Jewish immigrants, golems, and escape artistry and you lose me, you’ve seriously fucked up.”

However, a pal of mine mentioned it as a book she came back to and learned to appreciate a lot. Since I’m interviewing her next month for another podcast, I thought I’d give Chabon’s novel another shot. After all, maybe I was just being overly critical way back when; maybe I was jealous that someone else had tackled a bunch of topics that I’d love to have written about.

Alas, no. I made it around 40 pages further this time, nearly a quarter of the way through the novel, before giving up. The writing is still boring; the story structure makes no sense, with its nested flashbacks without triggers for the sake of building a symbol; the characters are uninteresting; the four-page exposition about the early history of comics may have been necessary, but it was a tedious info-dump. The final straw? A mere footnote, an asterisk that led to a 4-line aside.

Why did that push me over the edge? Because it served no purpose that couldn’t have been achieved within the third-person narration. Even if it was meant as an homage to David Foster Wallace, all it did (for me) was demonstrate that Chabon’s writing sucks and his editor was stealing paychecks.

And really, that latter point could be proved simply by looking at the page count: 640 pages! Was it meant to be a Great American Novel or something? How do you write 300 pages longer than, say, The Leopard, but say so much less?

(Don’t get me started on the chapter-long origin story of the superhero that Kavalier & Clay create. A long paragraph in that story begins with the lead character standing at the door of his mentor, then explains exactly why none of the mentor’s entourage would knock on the door, before explaining that the mentor’s mistress is the one who compelled the lead character to knock on the door. Which he was about to do at the beginning of this lengthy parapgraph and gets around to at the end. Mind-bogglingly shitty, cumbersome writing.)

I felt like I was cheating myself every time I read a few pages, like it was some sort of burden. Good thing this one only cost me $2.62.

NOTE: If you’re interested in a good novel about escape artistry, go read Carter Beats the Devil instead. You’ll thank me once you’ve come up for air.