Monday, August 14, 2006

Mercy Among the Hobbitsessss

I wrote a squib about David Adams Richards’ newest novel, The Friends of Meager Fortune, for the new issue of Toro magazine. I ended up liking the book a lot, but as with all of the Richards I have read (which is not a lot, admittedly), I often struggled from page to page, not sure whether what I was reading was powerful insight or an eye-roller*. Certainly there is more than enough of both to go round, but by the end I felt that the former had more than overwhelmed the latter. (Though I still think that Richards could stand to emulate more the Tolstoy of the novellas, with their concentrated intensity, as opposed to the Tolstoy of War and Peace.)

One thought I could not get out of my mind as I read the book was what Peter Jackson would make of it if he ever chose to make thing into a movie. Both Richards and Jackson have an obsession with a kind of outsized heroism and nobility that is probably a more natural fit for the screen than the page, but which is getting more and more difficult to represent in either medium without sprouting blooms of parody, self- and otherwise.

Part of this is because this heroic vision is anathema to our relentlessly skeptical minds, fed on humanism and rationality. And partly it is because both Richards and Jackson can get right fucking silly, slipping into a strange form of macho-camp, whereby all good women are true, all good men possess a steely gaze, and all educated, progressive-minded, or articulate men and women are either feckless ditherers or villianous shits. You can almost imagine Bruce Willis and D.H. Lawrence standing together somewhere, nodding approvingly. (Willis pretending not to notice Lawrence’s bloody handkerchief, Lawrence straining not to mention “16 Blocks.”)

Anyway, all I kept thinking of while reading Richards’ book was the sound going silent, but for the haunting, droning, Enya-type singing, as the good men of rural New Brunswick cut into the noble woods of Good Friday mountain in slow-motion.

If you read the book, you’ll see there’s already parts in it for half the cast of “Lord of the Rings.”




* I had "trite bullshit" here originally, but that sounded wrong - there's nothing in the book that is actually fraudulent or deceptive. Richards' greatest strength and his greatest weakness, like that of Flannery O'Connor, is that he is writing about something – a certain kind of honour or courage in his case; Christian revelation in hers – that he knows his readership has been primed to be suspicious of, and so he is forced to exaggerate that part of his vision in order to drive the point home. He is always oriented toward Truth, and follows the straightest and most direct path to it, even if that means crashing through the fences of Cliché or Overripe symbol. That sounds like a slight, but I actually really admire him for his willingness to mar his own book in the pursuit of a truthful vision. Most writers back off at the point where Truth and Beauty part company.

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