Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil

Disappointing Follow Up
Clever was the marketer who put the animals on the cover of Beatrice and Virgil, which is designed to look like it's Life of Pi, part deux. But while this book, too, features talking animals, it has none of the charm of its predecessor. It's a slight little book, barely half the size of Life of Pi and with half the interest. The not-at-all-shocking secret at the end of the book (which you'll figure out a few pages in if you have any sense at all of dramatic irony) is probably supposed to add heft and make B&V feel bigger than it is...but it doesn't.

This feels like Martel had to churn something out--indeed, the Martel-ish narrator has a serious case of writer's block--and so he came up with a little writing experiment, carried it out, and published it with a donkey and a monkey on the cover to sell some copies. Fans of Life of Pi deserved better.

This is an Amazon Vine review, available here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pass the Bill. Now.

This morning congressional Democrats are talking about killing their year-in-the-making health care bill because Martha Coakley lost in Massachusetts. This would be the stupidest thing they have ever done.

Well, maybe not as stupid as spending months talking to Mike Enzi about health care reform. Or dithering until history could call Olympia Snowe. (I guess that was actually a wrong number.)

But it will be stupid nonetheless. A year ago, a generation watched as the president we elected pledged to change the nation. He brought with him sweeping majorities in both houses and a mandate to fix things. A year later, an entire generation is being told that our votes matter less than those of a few cranky Red Sox fans. The Senate health care reform is not perfect--far from it. But it represents a vast improvement over the status quo, and the willingness of Democrats to scuttle it over a single election--to give up Ted Kennedy's dream, essentially, because Ted died!--is shameful. If we cannot face down a few foaming-at-the-mouth Republicans, why should the American people trust us to face down tougher challenges?

Pass the bill. Do it today. Do it proudly, with heads held high, knowing you are on the right side of history. Campaign that way, never apologizing, praising the merits of the bill, reminding people of all the good it contains and all the problems it will fix. THAT is how you win elections. And even if we still lose in least Dems will have done something with the mandate given in 2008. Something lasting. Something real. Something for the history books. Anything else will be a disappointment that a generation, ready and willing to be Democrats for life if only the party earns that loyalty, will not soon forget.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Adam Haslett, Union Atlantic

Decade's First Masterpiece
Adam Haslett began as a short story writer, a fact very much in evidence in this, his first novel. Clocking in at 304 pages, Union Atlantic will give no one eyestrain, with generous line spacing and margins. A cheaper publisher would have crammed the whole thing into 200 pages and saved money on paper.

So this is a novel, but it is not a long one. Which makes Haslett's achievement all the more remarkable, for Union Atlantic is positively symphonic in its ambitions. It contains the world! Rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, high finance and common drudgery, war and peace, young and old and in-between. Two well-drawn main characters--next-door neighbors embroiled in a battle over, at root, the tearing down of trees--lead us out into a whole host of others, each given subtle shadings and motivations that ring true. A bank--and the entire financial system!--teeter quietly on the brink of oblivion, as do an old woman's sanity, a young man's sexuality, and an in-between man's understanding of why he is who he is.

Never preachy, never ripped-from-the-headlines, Union Atlantic still, somehow, captures a precise moment in time and preserves it. The run-up to yet another Middle East war, the crashing-down of the regulatory apparatus and near ruin of the economic system, the brand-new giant houses devoid of furniture or feeling--these give the novel heft even as its persuasive characters give it heart.

By chronicling, so concisely and yet so thoroughly, the perils and plagues and passions of the century's first decade, Haslett has crafted the first literary masterpiece of its second.

This is an Amazon Vine review, available here.