Saturday, February 28, 2009

The History of Love

I read The History of Love a few years ago, but too quickly, and was confused at the end. I suggested it for my book club and reread the book, taking my time, drawing a little family tree on the back page as if it were a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (someone in book club actually compared it to Garcia Marquez).

Nicole Krauss's novel is quite beautiful; her writing style is elegant and her characters are richly developed. The History of Love has several narratives, and two stories that, I don't think I'll ruin it by telling you, become entwined. Here's a favorite passage:
I want to say somewhere: I've tried to be forgiving. And yet. There were time in my life, whole years, when anger got the better of me. Ugliness turned me inside out. There was a certain satisfaction in bitterness. I courted it. It was standing outside, and I invited it in. I scowled at the world. And the world scowled back. We were locked in a state of mutual disgust. I used to let the door slam in people's faces. I farted where I wanted to fart. I accused cashiers of cheating me out of a penny, while holding the penny in my hand. And then one day I realized I was on my way to being the sort of schmuck who poisons pigeons. People crossed the street to avoid me. I was a human cancer. And to be honest: I wasn't really angry. Not anymore. I had left my anger somewhere long ago. Put it down on a park bench and walked away. And yet. It had been so long, I didn't know any other way of being. One day I woke up and said to myself: It's not to late.

Krauss does some interesting things with text which I just love. She really reminds you that you're reading a story, on paper - she somehow make the act of turning the page very exciting. It feels very inclusive and personal to read such a book.

A lot of this hot crop of young writers have a similar style, most notably Krauss's husband, one Jonathan Safran Foer, who, if you've read his books, you'll assume the two sat side by side at their computers, sharing the same outline*. But, others are doing marvelous things too: Dave Eggers, Marisha Pessl & Joe Meno. I spend a fair amount of time bitterly wishing *I* were hobnobbing a various writers' wooded retreats and publishing multiple novels before reaching the age of 35. Anywho, they basically drive me insane with envy. But I do think these folks (don't forget Bender, Freudenberger, Z. Smith...) are making major contributions to the literary cannon.

* Apparently they did not read each others novels before they were finished.