Jim McCarthy and I spend an inordinate amount of time instant messaging each other about everything from our lunch orders to what horrible fashion choices Lena Dunham has made lately. This morning, our exchange went like this:
firstname.lastname@example.org 9:09 am
have you heard about this 3,000 page norwegian autobiographical novel My Struggle?
email@example.com 9:11 am
it’s getting an absurd amount of press. i decided to give it a shot. i’m 50 pages into volume 1 (of 6), so i can speak on it pretty authoritatively.
Mcgoderich 9:12 am
what’s it about?
firstname.lastname@example.org 9:14 am
it’s kind of just about his incredibly ordinary life. and it feels like it should be just a whole lot of navel-gazing except for the fact that he’s incredibly thoughtful and brutally honest.
Jim and I tend to have similar responses to fiction (with the glaring, appalling exception of Atonement, which I consider brilliant and he “meh”), so I generally trust his judgment when it comes to recommendations for new reading material. But, while we are both voracious readers, Jim still has the will and wherewithal to tackle massive literary novels with relish whereas I often look on them with fear and trepidation. I feel like what he’s describing above can be handled by Nicholson Baker in under 300 pages. Three thousand pages full of “the ordinariness of life, which is sometimes visionary, sometimes banal, and sometimes momentous, but all of it perforce ordinary because it happens in the course of a life, and happens, in different forms, to everyone…,” as the New Yorker puts it, makes me just want to take a nap.
Maybe it’s old age, mommy brain, or general crankiness, but I want my fiction to be more…extraordinary. And shorter. Yeah, definitely shorter.
What about you guys? Do you gravitate towards this kind of minutely observed life narrative or do you shelve it in a corner of your mind under “some day I’ll read Finnegan’s Wake”?