I read Siri Hustvedt, What I Loved, in just a few days last month. I brought it with me on a weekend trip to Seattle and back, a trip on which I didn’t read a thing but bought a pile of new books, and went right through it when I got back. I want to note that I read it within a week of buying it at PulpFiction – my habit is to buy novels and read them six months later. But I had a sense that if I did not read this right away, I might never get around to it.
And I don’t know what it was about or I can’t phrase it all into an aphorism, at least. One take suggested that it is two novels, uneasily grafted into one. From the back cover: “A wrenching portrait of parental grief, then a psychological thriller, and finally a meditation on the perspective of memory itself.” But to write something long – in both page length and scale of time – and to never end up glib or cheap. It was sudden to see a character die but that’s how it goes: people die, it’s sudden, you handle these things as you do. The course of change and the things that stay the same.
The comparison I made when I started was with Paul Auster, The Book Of Illusions – similar size and weight, same publisher, same year, similar interest in fictional art objects and great investment in art objects (paintings/films) as agents of character development, a focus on grief. Also, they are married. Siri Hustvedt is also the author of two previous novels… She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Paul Auster.
But the next comparison I made was with Michael Redhill, Martin Sloane, which I read over two days in August 2008 and haven’t really thought about since. But hey, it was shortlisted for the Giller prize! And I have to admit to taking What I Loved more seriously because it doesn’t have a great big “Giller Prize finalist!” sticker on the front. I enjoyed reading it but what was there at the end, why did I read this book? All I remember now are the detailed descriptions of the little ‘boxes’ that Martin Sloane, the artist, made. And when Bill Wechsler, the artist, in What I Loved starts to make his own boxes all I could picture were these incongruous passages from Martin Sloane – art objects that are delicately imagined and wonderful to read over but in both cases a real stretch to place into the narrative. Maybe, two years from now, all I will have left from What I Loved will be the boxes. Imaginary pieces of art. And I have had to check myself – did I see the boxes? In a gallery, somewhere. No, wait, that was just that Michael Redhill book I read last year. And, again, from the back cover: “Martin Sloane evokes the mysteries of love and art, the weight of history, and what it means to bear memory for the missing and the dead.”
Here is a cartoon about Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt. Are they rich? Literary, sure, but rich – I’m sure they’re doing fine but I don’t know about ‘rich.’ I read an interview from The Guardian with Don DeLillo that ends with the reporter and Don DeLillo meeting Paul Auster for lunch, because that’s just what human beings do. Sometimes after work, we get together to eat at local restaurants with “our mutual friend, Paul Auster.”