The Square Circuit

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

thanksgiving reading: 2

After THE AGE OF WIRE AND WHATEVER I read Robert Cohen's THE HERE AND NOW. The blurbers compare Cohen to Roth and Bellow; I suppose they have the "urban Jewish novelist, slightly humorous" box to fill and Cohen certainly fits into that one. It's a slight story: a secular Jew meets an orthodox couple on his way to a wedding in Houston; the gregarious and friendly orthodox man invites the protagonist over for dinner and attempts to be accelerating what isn't even yet a friendship; we end up finding out (SPOILER ALERT) that the man is infertile (and thus, as a childless man in the orthodox community, inferior) and is trying to create a situation in which the protagonist will impregnate his wife. It's a light read, but pleasant.

While I was reading the other books I was listening to Junot Diaz's BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, which I really liked. Diaz is one of the hot young fiction writers--he was in a GRANTA "40 Under 40" issue at some point and is now quite well-known. Most of the talk about this novel has centered on the fact that although Diaz is kind of a hipster urban writer, WAO is about a nerd, a fanboy D&D geek. But it's also in what a recent reviewer of another novel (I think I read this review in the NYTBR, but I can't remember) called the "historical present": mostly in the present time, but with a significant component of the past narrated in the present. In this case, we hear about Oscar's mother's and grandfather's time in the Dominican Republic, both of which end tragically and violently. Clearly, what Diaz is doing is illustrating the ongoing presence of the viciousness that Trujillo brought to (or brought out of) the Dominican Republic. But I liked the shifting narrators and the "code-shifting" between hipster New Jersey English and espaƱol dominicano.


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