Sorry about the delay on this one. I was so close to finishing At Night We Walk in Circles and I didn’t want to read the judgement in case it spoilered anything for me (Yeah, Judge Rosenberg in 2012, I remember that). Anyway I just finished it this morning and boy am I sad that it lost.
I kind of skimmed the parts about The Son because a) I haven’t read it anyway and b) spoilers but I enjoyed reading Judge McElwee’s decision. I’m going to try to read The Son before it comes up again next time. Steven read it and I asked him to write me something about it. He refused. When pressed, he had this to say: ‘It was bad. I didn’t like it.’ I have heard him explaining to a customer that he thought the first section was great and that the other two didn’t live up to it. And that’s all the insight we have into Philipp Meyer’s The Son today!
At Night We Walk in Circles is pretty excellent though. It follows the tour of two actors known (and in one case imprisoned) for their left-wing theatre productions. In an attempt to stage a revival, Henry and Patalarga choose directionless Nelson to join them on a tour of the tiny, war-scarred, Andean towns they visited twenty years ago. As Judge McElwee notes, Alarcón ‘forgoes the narrative appeal of war for a deeper reflection on the illusion and disillusion that rides in war’s wake.’ It is about art and idealism and theatre’s potential to transform, inspire and communicate. It’s also about repression, imprisonment and dysfunctional relationships. For me, it is also about performing identity and the construction of self. What makes someone who they are, what they choose to represent, who has the right to tell a story. And other, spoiler-ier things that we will not go into. It’s done so cleverly that I barely noticed how clever it was: Henry and Nelson’s stories unfold at different paces but always hold together. Different characters bring in different perspectives at just the right times. We always know something bad is going to go down but this becomes secondary to the lives of these men and the lives of those around them as well as the crystal-clear portrait of provincial South America. The more I think about it the more I love it.
As for the matchup between Long Division and The Goldfinch… Long Division sounds great and I can’t wait to read it when I can get my hands on it. That is basically all I can say at this point.
The Goldfinch was a book that I really enjoyed while I was reading it but one that I stopped thinking about basically the second I finished it. (Tartt’s last minute in-your-face meditation on the meaning of art had something to do with that.) At it’s most basic it’s a coming-of-age story about Theo who is orphaned by an explosion at the Met. This explosion also puts him in possession of a priceless art-world treasue. Various settings, and parental figures and super-tense hijinks ensue. The Goldfinch does create a very rich world but so much of it verged on or succumbed to pure stereotype. Moneyed but troubled Manhattanites! Gamblers chasing their big win in Las Vegas! Russian gangsters! Obsession over a childhood crush! The parts I liked best were those that steered away from the cartoonish and toward something more heartfelt, like Hobie’s quiet love and care for restoring antiques and the destructive and powerful friendship between Boris and Theo. These moments felt like the characters stepped out of Tartt’s elaborate constructions and into real feeling. I don’t think it helped that I’ve been re-reading and discussing Kushner’s The Flamethrowers. Her descriptions of the art world and the people in it are so much more convincing than Tartt’s wispy sketches.
On Monday I think I’ll have to watch my favourite book of the tourney, The People in the Trees, take a fall. There is a pun to be made but I am not that guy.