Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Thin Place, part three

Part one is here, and part two is here.

It's possible that Davis would say that I'm missing the point, that she intends to point out how our very real individuality pales beside our underlying commonality and interconnectedness, similar to how--to adapt images that the narrator uses--the rapid and dramatic changes of everyday life are both undergirded by and rendered minuscule next to the creeping accretions and alterations of geologic and galactic time. And there is undoubtedly a certain poignancy--even pathos--in the sense one gets that despite all this furious buzzing of mental and emotional activity in the town, each being is still trapped inside its own head, untouched and untouchable. There is tremendous power in that idea, the sort that can make a book so emotionally wrenching as to be painful to read--Woolf's To the Lighthouse and The Waves are that way. But Davis, it seems, hasn't fully imagined her characters, hasn't pressed hard enough on the thoughts that incited their creation--or, if she has, she's simply not been able to turn them loose and allow them to become separate from the overarching voice that organizes and pervades the book.

As my regular readers know, I don't write that often about books I don't like. I put enough effort into the process of selecting books that I don't end up even reading many that I don't like; when I do, I often will pass over them in silence, or with a brief post, simply because bad books frequently aren't worth writing about. The fact that I've devoted so many words to The Thin Place should make clear that I think it has value. It's a failure (though you shouldn't forget that the weight of critical opinion is solidly against me on this one), but it's an ambitious failure, admirable and generous in both its intentions and its view of the world. When I was about a hundred pages into it, I told Stacey it was becoming one of a very difficult and rare class of book for me: I was frustrated enough with it that I didn't want to keep reading, but I was interested enough that I didn't want to put it down. For all my criticisms in this post, I know that those are the sorts of books that stay with me, nagging at my understanding for years.

I will keep Kathryn Davis in mind; I may try one of her other books. I may even, someday, revise my opinion of this one, because reading, too, moves on two timescales, wedding the immediate and the long-term. Seeds that seem to have fallen on fallow ground sometimes, years later, produce a surprising harvest; you grow and change, and an old book, revisited, is made new and better.

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