Well that’s it, TOB. You’ve lost me. Well not really, I’ve already invested too much time to completely ditch the tourney two thirds through, but my heart is no longer in it. Judge Max himself said, “In most senses of the word, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia is a better novel than Sheila Heti’s.” AND THEN HE CHOSE THE WRONG BOOK ANYWAY. ON PURPOSE. PROBABLY TO MAKE ME MAD. (Sidebar on being mad: I just finished The Round House and oh man is it twenty times better than TFioS.)
So in one corner we have Arcadia: gentle and beautiful, ranging across fifty years, full of honest and different characters of all different ages, races, genders etc. It traces the life of Bit as he grows from the youngest member of a utopian tribe of hippies into a middle aged father, looking at politics, family, community, idealism adn all other sorts of interesting issues and our modern interpretation of them. Lauren Groff is great at the movement of time, passing effortlessly between disparate periods that never feel disjointed. She captures tiny sparkling moments so that they’re almost little photographs, with the perfect mix of nostalgia and realism for a time that was so idealistic but inherently flawed. IT’S SO GOOD WHY DIDN’T IT WIN.
Then there’s How Should a Person Be?: a self indulgent writing exercise with one mode. It follows ‘Sheila’ as she wonders how a person should be, while she takes advantage of her equally pretentious friends, feels sorry for herself and generally makes excuses for not doing anything at all. It also has some really dehumanising and demeaning sex scenes. I’m supposed to like Sheila I guess? I’m supposed to sympathise with her or something? All I wanted to do was to tell her to shut up. So whiny. There were occasional moments of beauty as truth but mostly just a mess of uninteresting thoughts. Kevin Guilfoile gives a great run-down of my main issues with this book in a much less snarky way. I totally agree that it tells instead of showing and that all the incidents feel staged. And the characters “speak with a self-awareness that is beyond the grasp of any actual people I know, yet they act as if they have no self-awareness at all.” But hey if you’re into shallow stream of consciousness diaries with weird relationships to sex, then this is your new bicycle.
Anyway, whatever, ToB. I have disagreed VEHEMENTLY with the majority of the choices so far. I have disagreed with the reasoning behind them. I have watched excellent books being passed over for mediocre ones and then then I’ve watched myself becoming bitter and twisted. I’m out. (But to clarify: I’m emotionally out but will still be commentating. Maybe less regularly.)