Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mary Gordon and Jodi Picoult, on Mothers and Daughters

Once in a while I take a stab at reading an author I don't know, or know mostly by reputation. These exercises, as you might suppose, lead to one of three places: amazing discovery, so-so indifference, or are you kidding? I ventured into this territory twice recently, going from the sublime, as they say, to the ridiculous.

Try as I might, I can't seem to feel much for Mary Gordon beyond the acknowledgement that, yep, she's definitely talented. I can see that she is, but her whole tone suggests that she prizes that talent a lot more than any reader ever could. I looked and looked for her last book, "Circling My Mother," and finally had to order it from Amazon. I admire the project - telling the story of her mother from different angles, through friendships, family, work, religion, even her body (she was disabled from childhood polio). But throughout, Gordon's language is so solemnly pretentious and at times so vengeful that it's hard to view this as book for us. Mostly, I think, it's a book for her, where she gets to settle scores and announce verdicts. History belongs, as we know, to the one who records it for posterity. And Gordon revels in her role.

Then there's Jodi Picoult. Somebody recommended her books to me, and seeing them displayed, one after another, in a place of honor in my local used bookstore (whose owner I trust utterly with my reading life), I decided to give one a try. Yes - I kind of knew they were all of the topical, Woman's Day variety, but one of them had a particularly evocative cover (two kids wrapped in a red blanket in a swirling snowstorm), so I picked it up.

This book - "The Tenth Circle" - is one of the silliest, most unlikely books I've ever read. Teenage girl gets dumped by boyfriend, determinedly chases boyfriend, claims later to have been raped by boyfriend, then - doing what all girls do in such trying situations - hops a truck bound for Alaska, there to find we never learn what. In the meantime, boyfriend dies mysteriously, and Dad, a comic book illustrator who draws avenging superheroes, is implicated. Maybe I'm not making this sound as bad as it truly is. This plot, one would think, might after all be made to work, in capable hands. But these hands are not those hands. Yuk.

No comments:

Site Meter