Monday, November 27, 2006

Sourpuss: Wherein I Carp About More Books

If you've spent any time in an English (or Literature) Department in the last twenty years or so, you'll want to read Jame Hynes' story of the spooky ascendancy and corruption of a well-meaning post-doc/lecturer. It's not perfect--probably too long, some of the characters become incoherent as they're forced into service of the subtext, and it turns out to be harder than you'd think to satirize an English Department, as some of the real "critical approaches" already seem like jokes. (I found the gender studies material in this book no more silly and no less tired than much of the real stuff I've come across. More supernatural, sure, but only if you don't compare it to a Madonna show.) Still, it's an impressive book. Hard for me to think of anything in an English Department that escapes his satire. His take on privatization and composition/rhetoric at the end is hilarious.

Speaking of gender studies, we have James Lasdun's The Horned Man, the story of a gender studies professor who discovers he has a violent shadow. This is a cracker jack doppelganger story for those of us who can't get enough of classics like "William Wilson," "The Secret Sharer," and the Quilty parts of Lolita. Hmm. Throw in a little David Lynch too--say, Mulholland Dr. Did I say carping? I've got no complaints.

Love and Hydrogen is a collection of new and selected stories from Jim Shepard. As a short story writer he seems to fall somewhere between George Saunders and the tricksier T.C. Boyle stories. Some of the stories do it for me. Some don't. As with most single author story collections I began to grow weary (and wary) of certain patterns I saw in story construction. Titling of sections in the aforementioned tricksy stories. Isaac Babel-ish quasi-poetic endings meant to make a change in the reader, rather than to mark one in the character. The day I admit that I just, sort of, kind of, prefer novels over short stories will mark a new level of maturity in yours truly. In the meantime, I'd recommend trying Project X first, if you want to see what Jim Shepard is all about.

2 comments:

  1. Imported on behalf of: McI
    Hey, *The Lecturer's Tale* is another I've read. My brain is hard-pressed to remember it exactly, but I enjoyed it enough to read two more of his books. Like William Browning Spencer moved into the academic realm.

    Inside story: One of the acknowledgements in the Hynes book is to the Duke history professor who introduced me to *Orientalism*.

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  2. Imported on behalf of: Lee
    I noticed that the satanic Department chair is modeled on Frank Lentricchia, also from Duke.

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