Friday, January 28, 2011

Fictional Politics

Never up-to-the-minute, I just got around to reading this 2008 novel by Joan Silber called The Size of the World. Sooner or later I will read whatever she writes out of simple gratitude for her 2001 novel Lucky Us which I read aloud to my convalescing daughter, who had her wisdom teeth pulled shortly after that book came out. What a spectacular diversion it turned out to be. We both thought Lucky Us was the most convincing and unsentimental yet moving modern-days love story we had ever read, and for my part I still think so. The new book works extremely well too – a much more intricate piece of craftsmanship (from a technical point of view) with six interlocking sections, each narrated by a different character inhabiting a different range of geographies in a different span of time. Frankly, I have abandoned a number of books (including McEwan's hugely popular Atonement) when the voice of a narrator I liked was dropped and a new narrator stood up to speak. Silber's six voices would not permit any such grumpy dissatisfactions, though I do not really know by what trick she makes them so urgently interesting. Partly it must be the way she handles her big theme of east-west colonialism and war as it consistently inundates these various bit players on the global stage. The compromised idealism of fictional characters is even more difficult to render credibly then the love-lives of fictional characters – I suppose politics is even harder than love to represent justly (and not wishfully) in a work of art. So I am a few years late here, but still wanted to give Joan Silber credit for her great success in The Size of the World.