Fay: Another choice that I disagree with and another over-hyped book passing onto round two. But to save us from bitterness, today we have guest commentator Veronica! She is a coworker and a pal, an astute literary critic and writer with really nice hair. Bear with us because this is a long one. We all have things to say and we’re damn well going to say them!
I don’t know. I just totally disagree with Judge Pacey today. The parts of Billy Lynn that he selects for criticism were examples of the writing I loved. I had a whole thing about it but then John Warner said it better: “I find Billy Lynn’s to be a novel that’s expertly observed. The eye is simultaneously jaundiced and clear… The description of game-day couture, strikes me as both accurate and interesting as part of the bigger-picture motifs of American excess, hero worship, and play-acting that Fountain is working with in the novel.” I seriously feel like Judge Pacey just missed the whole point of Billy Lynn and that makes me sad.
I’ve already said nice things about it. Billy is a convincing picture of a sweet kid put in a shit situation and the dialogue is whip smart and instantly captures camaraderie of the Bravo team. It paints these wonderfully garish pictures of consumerist life in that slightly ‘describing normal things to an alien’ kind of way that really makes you feel the weirdness of these guys returning home. And I liked the word clouds. They gave a sense of the walls of talk Billy comes up against and as for what Judge Pacey called Fountain’s ‘gimmick’ of phoneticising words (such as ‘Nina Leven’), for me this was a comment on the way the way such phrases have lost their meaning through patriotic overuse.
Steven: Yeah count me in as another dude who doesn’t understand Pacey’s comments on BLynn. That’s not to say he hasn’t necessarily made the right choice – I haven’t read the A. M. Holmes so can’t remark to its quality (obvs that didn’t stop me with Fault but that is a book for children) – but nonetheless I disagree on his take. I especially disagree with his characterisation of the book as a ‘red state narrative’. In all honesty I don’t even know how he arrived at this judgment (apart from the book’s actual setting in a red state), and it leads me to believe that Pacey might have misread chunks of the book. Interestingly (jk, talkin about books) no one has mentioned my only semi-major issue with the book, notably the lately introduced idea that Billy could run away to a group opposing the war and not have to return to Iraq. For me this undermined (though not in a serious way) the book. Firstly, unlike the rest of the novel this part wasn’t believable to me. Secondly I didn’t like how it made an inevitability a conscious choice; I feel the novel would have worked better if, at the end of the day, Billy just had to go back to Iraq. The idea of this other option reduces the character to a single choice and I felt that he, and the rest of the narrative, deserved better. Further, I don’t feel like this plot point added anything already unsaid to the novel.
Anyway that was far from a book ruining problem. As we’ve both said before, BLynn was a clever, well constructed satire of a stupid war which admirably didn’t allow its satire to take center stage over its characters. Based on the strength of this book, no doubt Fountain is an author I shall pick up again, whenever his next book may be.
Fay: Well I didn’t love May We Be Forgiven. It certainly marches along but the places it goes (Africa? Why??) were somewhat disjointed. Different episodes seemed to be going in different directions: Harold Silver going to family day at his nephew’s boarding school, weird online hook-ups, visits to the wilderness camp/prison alternative to see his brother and other such weirdness. It never added up and then it had to explain to me why it should have. I didn’t mind it while I was reading it but I always wondered where it was going and why and it never really resolved for me. It had Bernadette’s level of zaniness without its lightness or fun. But here’s Ronnie with some positivity for us:
Ronnie: Yeah, I have no complaints about this verdict. I agree with the elements of May We Be Forgiven which Pacey singles out for praise. Obviously, I’m completely biased because I haven’t read Billy Lynn. However, I’ve read (and loved) May We Be Forgiven, and I want to defend its victory.
Essentially, May We Be Forgiven is a funny book disguised as a solemn one. As comedy goes it’s incredibly dark: its plot is largely driven by adultery, murder, and emotional disconnection. A.M. Homes uses her protagonist Harold’s dubious morality to delineate and examine the universal struggle for self-definition.
The raves Homes’ writing receives from heavyweights like Jeanette Winterson, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith led me to expect a Worthy Tome from a Serious Literary Figure. I actually think that is what it is – and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the process of reading it even so (and despite the wanky title).
Initially, I was distracted by the characters’ warped motivations and implausible relationships. I admit that the book’s final two-thirds (and its climax especially) are completely ridiculous. I think Homes uses the outrageous sequence of events to more effectively make her point: by stretching the bounds of believability, each new occurrence seems both weighty and inconsequential.
Once I opened myself to the absurdity of these conceits, MWBF became a treat which entertained, provoked and – most surprisingly – moved me, deeply. May We Be Forgiven might be classified as a literary novel because it juggles these disparate elements. However, it’s also surprisingly readable. Also, I have a big fat crush on Harold’s delinquent teenage nephew, Nate.
Fay: So there you have it. We must agree to disagree! And onto the next round for Chatz on Gone Girl tomorrow.