Saturday, April 23, 2011
TBR Challenge Books #6 and #7
Heller's absurdist and blackly cynical sense of humour was perfectly showcased in Catch-22. Here, turning his attention to a Jewish professor with ambitions to work in the White House during the post-Nixon, post-Kissinger 70s, it's much less successful. In some technical senses it's as solid as Catch-22 and he's really great at tightly structuring scenes and dialogue for maximum effect. But the overall effect of the book is wearying and repetitive.
Heller's portrayal of Gold's dyfunctional family, tearing itself to pieces, is painful and unlikable rather than funny or relatable. He goes a little better in his depictions of Washington political life as a farcial scene dominated by double-think - but it's not like he's telling us anything new after the third or so scene of the kind. I forced myself to finish it but would have happily left off after about four chapters; by then, Heller has already said all he needs to say.
The third collection of the serialised adventures in love and life for Mrs Madrigal's found family in San Francisco. By now we've hit the decadent 80s - Mary Ann's career is on the up, she and Brian are starting to think about settling down, while Michael's still playing the scene. This is the third in the series and Maupin has the formula down pat - the younger characters negotiating their way through the dating scene and professional life, with Mrs Madrigal presiding over it all with a loving eye. As always Maupin has funny, clever things to say about modern life, the gay scene and changes in society.
Though charming and funny to start, unfortunately Maupin's formula also contains some elements that are less than great and actually kind of bad. At about the halfway mark, the storylines all start descending into ridiculous soap opera melodramatics, complete with kidnappings, secret identities, a shooting, etc . None of these plot knots makes a lick of sense and all are much less interesting than the characters themselves. Another book that would have worked so much better if it had known when to stop.
My 12 books for the 2011 TBR Challenge