Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fun Home and Nazi Literature In The Americas

    Well, we're one day in and I have already read two of this month's five assigned reads. No, that is not an April Fool's joke. Yes, I did start reading on the 30th of March.
    I went into both books with certain expectations. Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is a graphic novel memoir that I expected to love, based upon my friends, co-workers, and customers that have talked (sometimes gushed) about what a sublime and moving story it is. Roberto Bolano's Nazi Literature is a fictional collection of brief biographies on a vast array of authors who were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. I expected to hate this book, based on the fact that I have not enjoyed Bolano, in the past.
    I was wrong on both counts; surprisingly disappointed on the one hand and surprisingly enchanted on the other.
    Fun Home first. I should begin by saying that the book is artfully done, both the drawings themselves and the way that the story is laid out. Were this a collection of pictures, I would be very taken with them. It's the story itself that I have problems with, and a good story is the main reason that I read stories. Bechdel's left me cold. It's possible that is what she intended to do; if so, kudos Bechdel. Still didn't care for it. Bechdel treats her family, particularly her father, like a literary device and so a truly heartbreaking tale ends up lacking heart and pathos. I didn't feel anything for any of these characters and I sensed that Bechdel doesn't either. Her father's tragic death looks to be a tragic accident and yet she insists that it was not only a suicide, but one likely caused by her own "coming out." Both scenarios struck me as unlikely, particularly the first. She provides the flimsiest of evidence for her theory and then shapes a narrative around it. It struck me as a way of shaping the narrative around herself, even when she wasn't necessarily the center of the story and, in the end, felt like a story of a self-centered father told by his self-centered daughter. I recently saw Bechdel interviewed and, when asked what her next project was, answered, "I'm working on another memoir, because I've decided that the only thing I'm interested in is myself." After reading this story, I believe it. I didn't care about her story or her father's, which is sad, because it's the telling, and not the story, that was the cause. Alas, we move on to Nazi Literature.
    Having read Bolano's Savage Detectives and attempted 2666, I knew that Bolano was capable of real genius, but that these genius moments were too often buried under hundreds of pages of boring and confused; both books meander around to no real purpose and with no set destination. Nazi Literature is completely different. Perhaps it's the format itself that helps it along; this collection is incisive and concise. It's also hilarious in its subtle satire. The Nazis would have hated this book, if they even got it. I didn't always get it, but I loved it. Proof that Bolano should stick to novellas and short story collections. My next search will be to see if he has put out either.
    An up and down to kick off April. More coming soon.

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