The instant I opened up the introduction to The Awakening I was warned that I had my hands on a controversial book. So controversial in fact that the widowed Kate Chopin made almost no money off of it even though she had children to support. The really controversial thing was that it was feminist and included a wilful woman doing what she wanted. Okay then.
I totally get how this work could have been controversial when it was published and sure we still leave in a world where the Planned Parenthood is a controversial organization rather than a really obvious basic service but I didn’t really feel the controversy. I guess I have over a hundred years of feminism to thank for that (and THANK you). What I really got out of this book was that Chopin is a talented writer and captured the spirit of New Orleans in the late 1800s. It’s too bad everyone was too distracted by the controversy to see the book for what it is (beneath all the feminist stuff), which is well written and interesting. I liked the way she captured French culture and used characters. You should read The Awakening for Chopin’s talent. And the crotchety friend who is kind of like Cassandra Edelstein in Saved (also known as Jew Girl for those who have seen Saved fewer times than me). But mostly for the talent.
One of the dangers of this challenge is that sometimes you pick a book that you end up not really liking and you have no one to blame by yourself. And perhaps the book. This was one of those books.
While I enjoy the premise of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and think it started off strong it mostly felt long. Very very long. As in I enjoyed the first hundred pages and then spent the rest of the time thinking we get why do I still have to read this. If I didn’t have to finish it for a challenge it would be the type of book that I would put down after a hundred pages and think about reading without ever going forward any further so I guess it’s good that I read it for a challenge. That or I would have been less concerned about page length and more in tune with just enjoying the book.
As far as substance goes I found the plot a bit weak. For large sections it felt like nothing much was happening or that the same things kept happening over and over again. Maybe this is why the book felt so long (other than the fact that it was long).
I liked this book and I disliked this book. There were some things about it that showed Foer’s strength and charm as a writer. I could see how the young Jewish American boy in his rounded glasses staring out from the author photograph had written this work. The story was interesting and it got better the more I read.
Then there were the annoying things that made me question why everyone likes this book so much. First off it was immature. Incredibly immature. It sounded exactly like a 24-year-old male had written it and poured out a sexually idealized version of himself in the process. The unnecessary mentioning of 69ing in the beginning of the book and then the sexual attraction resulting from the dead arm were things I couldn’t get used to or accept. They didn’t need to be there and they didn’t make the book better. Instead, they made it feel like Everything Is Illuminated was written by a young and immature writer. Very immature. Screaming PENIS in health class immature.These things bothered me as the book moved along.
There was also Sammy Davis Jr, Jr and the fact that he chose to refer to her as a bitch throughout the book instead of I don’t know a dog or animal or creature. Once again very immature. The character of Sammy Davis Jr, Jr didn’t make much sense or add anything to the book.
I also disliked the inclusion of the ESL letters in the book. Sometimes it was clever but most of the time it was annoying. I was glad when he stopped using spleen. Seriously, it spleened me. Oh wait, spleened is not a word.
The other thing that struck me is that this is the type of book written by a young American male of Jewish decent. It was good but I’ve read much better versions of the same thing. Michael Chabon is much more skilful. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a measure that for better or worse I held up in my head while reading Everything Is Illuminated and it failed to compete with it. Chabon is a gifted and moving writer. I would rather have been reading one of his books.
My general objections aside I liked the arc of the story and I think it showed a great deal of potential. The parts that were told from story Jonathan Safran Foer’s perspective were interesting and intricate. I would be interested to see what writer Foer’s later work is like and how he has grown up as a writer.
After having spent a fair amount of time traveling in Russia and the surrounding area recently I enjoyed that aspect of the book. He effectively captured what it is like to travel in the former Soviet Union and what guides can be like at times.