The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I've been reading the glowing press for Claire Messud's THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN and decided to reserve it at the Carnegie Library (which really is one of the best big-city library systems around). One of the reviews noted that Messud's book (one of the seemingly endless parade of coming-of-age-of-young-intellectuals novels best exemplified by Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS but hearkening back to Goethe's SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER and Flaubert's SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION) is in the tradition of THE CORRECTIONS and of Benjamin Kunkel's INDECISION, so it was a happy coincidence that a friend had been raving about that last novel and lent it to me last week. I sped through it in a couple of nights.

INDECISION is dominated by the voice of its first-person narrator, a twentysomething guy living in lower Manhattan with his school buddies as they do what young people do in New York--work in publishing, finance, PR, and go out to clubs and parties and openings every night. Dwight, our narrator, suffers from chronic indecision--or, as the drug companies have now discovered, the pharmaceutically treatable condition of "abulia." His roommate brings him home the drug invented to treat this "condition," Abulinix, which Dwight takes. He immediately finds himself a Decisive Person, ditching his semigirlfriend and flying off to Ecuador to be with another woman. The bulk of the book chronicles his aimless adventures with a Belgian beauty in Ecuador and is less satisfying, although more ambitious, than the first third, which is a pretty sly and funny portrait of Manhattan young folk. The end is not good; it's not "It was all a dream!" but it's damn close.

Kunkel is also trying pretty hard to inject his book both with typical generational snarkiness, popculture savvy, and cynicism and with a real attention to philosophy itself (not surprising from one of the editors of n+1). It doesn't have the heft--physically or literarily--of THE CORRECTIONS, but Franzen may be lost to us in a morass of self-loathing navel gazing; Michiko Kakutani calls Franzen's latest, THE DISCOMFORT ZONE, "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed." Let's hope that Messud's book is better.


  • At 3:12 PM, Blogger zp said…

    ok, so maybe you know how i feel about kunkel and franzen. not good.

    but have i mentioned how much i love the carnegie library system? while i don't love the oakland or sq hill locations as a work space, the main library has a really great collection of out of print books (and translations of books!) from the late 19th - early 20th C and not only are they available, they're very accessible too. wheeeeeee!

  • At 8:56 AM, Blogger mantooth said…

    and the local history collection is quite impressive.


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