This is Why I Can’t Have Literary Things

Disclaimer: This is just me being snobby and annoying.

Call it Cormac McCarthy Syndrome or something, but there are some literary bags of tricks that drive me up a freaking wall and stop me dead in the middle of a read and make me want to see just how far I can throw a damn book. I once threw a copy of Gore Vidal’s “Creation” across four entire back yards in San Francisco one fine day. Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” was somewhat heavier and didn’t quite make it that far (although it did cause the neighbor’s German Shepherd – Pamela was her name – to go on a record-setting barking spree). Cormac McCarthy’s The Road met a similar fate when I got to a sentence where his characters found themselves wandering through “the nameless dark”. Nameless dark? I think that actually does have a name. Where I’m from they call it “night”.

So I blundered into another one yesterday in a Kindle sample of “I Am Radar” by Reif Larsen. I had been led to it through an article the author wrote discussing the art of ambiguity in Josepg Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” – an interesting essay which extols the virtue of pure story-telling (He writes “it returns literature to its essence, which is a story being told” and “I try to think of myself as a storyteller, rather than a ‘writer.'”). So I thought I’d check out his novel. I’m not a big fan of “writerly” writing, but I love good story-telling. So what do I find? In the first few pages, we discover that as a small child, the protagonist’s family is fleeing the war in Europe, wherein his mother is (sort of accidentally) murdered by a border guard when she resists his sexual advances. Next page we have this: “Years later, even after he had fled Europe, Kermin’s limited sexual adventures – in a Meadowlands parking lot [and a few more places] – these moments of carnal urgency were still inflected with the lingering sense of crossing a hostile border”.

Stopped. In. Tracks.


inflected with the what?

a sense of what?

crossing a what?

This gets me on a few levels. One, the tragic childhood shtick. Sacrifice a parent for later so-called “character development”. Some crap psychology. Some formative experience. Novelists so often seem to be in the business of constructing cutely flawed personalities out of random bullshit. Play with your puppets as you will but can you at least not pretend to be Sigmund Freaking Freud? Event A never “explains” Person B. It’s never that simple, and no, I don’t believe those moments of carnal urgency were so inflected.

We had a game when I was a kid called “I Doubt It” (I think some people call it “Bullshit”).

I get to stuff like this in a novel and I’m looking around for targets to fling at.

— discontinue pointless rant and return to work now —


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