Sometimes I need to talk about my reading trends, and today’s installment is that novels about novelists writing just don’t interest me as much as they did a number of years ago.
I’m currently reading a book about an artist, The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. The first story in the book is about an artist working for the Soviet government who censors art: he erases dissidents in painting. It’s an interesting set-up, I learned a little history and a little art, and it’s a job that makes for a good idea to explore in detail in a set of stories. I’m about halfway through, and the painting of a pasture in Chechnya that appears in the first story continues to appear over a significant span of time (from 1937 to 2013), and in every story I learn a bit more about the overlapping lives and families of the characters. It’s a really enthralling book so far.
On the other hand, I just finished listening to My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout which is a shorter novel told by a novelist and her strained relationship with her mother. It’s a story about their time together during Lucy’s extended hospital stay and how Lucy and her mother failed to talk about the miseries of her childhood. The passages of the book talking about what stories writers write (that a writer always writes the same story, whatever that one story is she needs to write) felt a little too on-the-nose for me. It stood out for me especially because the book as a whole was a lesson in things Lucy and her mother left out of their own stories, the stories they told each other and the stories that Lucy wrote. I guess it kind of boiled down to: the only story I have to tell is the story where I leave big gaps, and that was a little frustrating. I think I admire the book, but I’m frustrated by it because I wanted a book that got out of its small world more.
Strout’s book also stands out to me because a few weeks ago I read a novel by a psychiatrist that continually had me wishing that more psychiatrists write novels: their take on character is quite different than in most novels I read. The book is The End of Miracles by Monica Starkman, and it’s a character study of a woman dealing with years of infertility. If a psychiatrist had written about Lucy Barton, that would have been a book I’d have loved.