Monday, September 22, 2008

Three reviewers in search of a point

1. Geoff Pevere reviewing David Bergen's The Retreat in The Toronto Star:

No, fictional people absolutely must possess at least a spark of hope and possibility, even if it's ultimately extinguished. Novelists must provide characters with this trait not out of any sense of contrived or sentimental optimism, but out of respect for drama.

To live with any chance of sparking interest from others, even in a fictional sense, folks must believe they've got a chance to make their own future.
No, they just have to be interesting to read about, period. Who – aside from maybe Oprah – gives two shits whether a character is full of hope? I don't remember reading The Metamorphosis and thinking, "well, as long as Gregor believes he can make it as a bug..."

2. J.C. Sutcliffe on Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce in The Globe and Mail:
Through Black Spruce feels rushed, more sketchy and less careful, sentence by sentence, than Three Day Road. Although it is not the best novel that Boyden could have produced, its shortcomings are forgivable. Both novels demonstrate that there is much more to modern Anishnabe life than the clichés of alcoholism and the unsporting use of technology to make the most of traditional hunting rights. Even if the people who most need to hear this message are too busy riding their own ATVs to their high-tech deer hides to actually read Boyden's books, their children will no doubt come across them at school as this author becomes part of the canon.
To recap: the book's not all that well written, but that's okay, because, unlike this review, it doesn't propagate certain cultural clichés. And therefore kids should have to read it.

3. My personal favourite – Rob Salem on Ghost Town in the Star:
Téa Leoni's misguided widow is something else entirely, in her case unintentionally unlikeable – the victim of poor writing and a needlessly needy, poorly conceived and inconsistent character.

It is only Leoni's irresistable charm that makes the girl even remotely sympathetic – just as, conversely, her mere proximity as Adam Sandler's neurotic wife made Spanglish somehow bearable.

I swear, she just gets better and more interesting and more luminously beautiful with the passing years.

You are moved to ask the same question you ask in real life – what on earth was her husband (David Duchovny, he of the sex-addiction rehab) thinking?

Never mind that, what on earth was Rob Salem thinking? Uh, never mind – I think we can guess.


Alex said...

OK, the second two are truly awful. Salem sounds like David Thomson on Nicole Kidman. Embarrassing. I'd give a pass to Pevere though. Categorical statements like that are almost impossible to defend, but if you take what he means to be something like "every character in a story has obstacles they have to try to overcome" (like Gregor, who is trying to work with his situation -- i.e., "make it as a bug") then you at least have a functional platitude.

nathan said...

Except that Pevere says, quite explicitly, "fictional people absolutely must possess at least a spark of hope and possibility."

That goes further than simply having obstacles to overcome (i.e. being part of a plot, which is in itself debatable a necessity - lots of great books do without it.)

If the minimum hope required is such that characters don't commit suicide on the first page, then fine, but there are lots of great characters who betray little belief that they can "make their own future."

Sweeping statements can be hard to defend, I agree - I've made a few myself - but what Pevere is insisting on here is little better than what you hear in Grade 9 English.

He may be on firm ground suggesting Bergen's book is as dull as his characters, but it's not because those characters lack "a spark of hope."