31 May 2007

Turning Thirty. Mike Gayle.

Two shelves down from Whitney (and Elizabeth) Gaskell was Mike Gayle, whose first book I remembered reading while jet-lagged in Vienna in 1999. If I still remembered it eight years later it must have been (I now thought, standing in the blue light of the library) just the sort of weightless thing I always seek, that magically starves out all kinds of thought. These kinds, for instance: I'm in an airplane and this sleeping person whose elbow is digging into my waist smells alternately of feces and oral bacteria, depending which direction she leans. It's three a.m. and I have to get up at seven. Why doesn't anyone like me? What is the meaning of existence? Why can't I subsist without gainful employment? What an obnoxious cliche. Can we be expected to believe our heroine loves this man-character, who speaks so hollowly and vanishes into air? If this person is supposed to be in Kunming, why isn't she eating anything?

Besides, I could not resist taking the absurd action of reading books called Pushing Thirty and Turning Thirty back to back.

They were alarmingly similar, enough so to make convincing subjects fifty or a hundred years hence for a master's thesis on anomie and extended adolescence in turn-of-the-twenty-first-century popular literature. Both contained: breakups of year-long romantic relationships; travel between the US and the UK; grim sojourns in parents' houses; couches in front of TVs in apartments; the heedless consumption of alcohol; nostalgic hookups with old high school flames; thirtieth birthday parties; friends distraught at partners' betrayals.

It turns out, though, that the difference in titles matches a difference in essential character, Pushing Thirty carrying its heroine by inexorable propulsion through the humdrum details of existence to an improbably glorious conclusion in which all her mistakes and mediocrities must be explained away as figments of the self-demeaning imagination which is the only flaw in her otherwise impeccable makeup, while in Turning Thirty things just happen, one after the other, the hero meandering along with all his faults until at the end he sets out along one of many possible pitted new paths.

Also, Pushing Thirty contains a dog, whereas so far as I can recall Turning Thirty held no animals whatsoever. Much better!

22 May 2007

Pushing Thirty. Whitney Gaskell.

On Friday I was at Tammy's house, lolling about on the vast purple couch while the kids napped and Tammy sat at her desk swearing at her idiot coworker. There was a library book wedged into the back of the couch between the frame and the cushion. Idly, I picked it up.

"That book's really bad," Tammy warned me.

"Yeah, it looks like it," I said, commencing to read. "Why are all these books always set in New York, anyway? I'm sick of reading about New York. Is it because all people who want to write move to New York, and then that's what they write about?"

"I think they're the only people who can get published--fucking idiot didn't check the links!" Tammy muttered.

"Yeah, this book is really bad," said I, a couple of minutes later.

"You know, what, I think I've read this book," a few minutes after that. I started flipping through for a spot-check. "Yep, I've definitely read it. How pathetic."

That was some other book, not this one by Whitney Gaskell. I got this one out of the library because I thought I'd like to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell, and then I pulled the Whitney Gaskell off the shelf and it had something about being miserable in a lightweight wool suit in DC in October, a feeling I could sympathize with, and then it referred to a dog of churlish temperament, which I thought indicated a book I could get all the way through without having to sigh over its syntax. (No, I'm not confusing lexicon with syntax, just think that someone who would use the word "churlish" probably would also make sure her pronouns referred to something, and so on.)

Indeed, the book turned out to be pleasantly weightless, but I think if I happen upon it wedged into Tammy's couch in another year and a half it will take a close inspection before I recognize it, and when I do recognize it I'll be depressed.

19 May 2007

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil. Christopher Brookmyre.

I was dubious about the presence in this story of a policewoman, and indeed she turned out to be a great deal more interesting in her earlier incarnation as the Primary One who wet herself over someone else's spilt milk. The murders in this book were of almost no interest, ditto their investigation, but the earlier history of the people involved was highly readable. Really this was something else masquerading as a crime novel, but Christopher Brookmyre can do what he likes and I will happily follow along.

06 May 2007