Monday, September 07, 2009

Top Three Frustrating Novels

Inspired by a thread on a Goodreads forum, I have been thinking about my Top Three Most Frustrating Novels. This does not mean a book you hated the most, but rather a book you liked that made you angry in the end, or a book that had potential but never seemed to reach it. I will try to keep this specific spoiler free, but it will necessarily give some general spoilage.

1. The Life of Pi - This made me so mad because of the ending. The book was unbelievably well written, creative, and interesting, and then I felt the ending was a super cheap shot. I was working at Borders in Cambridge at the time, and I remember the whole group of us twentysomething supervisors reading it and discussing it. We were somewhat divided -- a couple thought the ending was brilliant, whereas I was furious at it. The book is so good that I continue to enthusiastically recommend it to people, and I even think I need to continute to understand the ending on multiple levels -- but damn! did it ever infuriate me!

2. Infinite Jest -- This would be another book with a frustrating ending whose genius becomes clear after you pick up the book from where you've hurled it across the room, except Infinite Jest is too big to be hurled anywhere. Actually, the ending is not what earns Jest a place on my list; instead it's the portion somewhere around 60% (?) of the way through where one of the psycho characters goes on a psycho murderous rampage killing stray and pet animals. Wallace, in his chillingly good writing style, delivers the macabre details of this lunatic who kills rats, cats, and dogs. It is hard to get through, but what pisses me off the most is that he lingers over the cat killing, disturbingly and I guess somewhat pornographically, and then goes on to the dog slaughter for like a page. It made me hate DFW a little bit for a while. I had to put the book down for a month or more and considered not finishing it. I hate cat haters, and I can't tell exactly to what extent he is one, but it was gross. I consider that portion of the book a huge flaw, which gets lost in the hundreds of pages of sheer genius surrounding it.

3. The Handmaid's Tale - I get annoyed by this book partly because of how people fall all over themselves loving it. I think it is my least favorite Atwood -- and by the way, I love her persona and intelligence, love hearing her speak, and love reading her books. The Handmaid's Tale, to me, is a kind of smug, reactionary novel that falls just short of the beautiful, wise literary feminism of which Atwood has made a career and a life, but it does so quietly and profoundly so nobody notices the frustrating things about it. If it had been written ten years later, Oprah would have picked it for her book club and then maybe a few more people would understand what I mean about the sensationalism, not-quite-perfected writing and storytelling. It's like "deep thought for dummies." There are better dystopian novels, better philosophical novels, and better socio-political-feminist novels, but because it's Margaret Atwood who has since only got better and better, The Handmaid's Tale always gets a free pass, and that bugs me.

What a fun exercise this was!

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