Saturday, August 03, 2002

Libra

I've just finished reading Libra, by Don Delillo, and am left with a somewhat unfulfilled feeling. The novel takes a fictionalized look at the Kennedy assassination.

I was most interested in the character of Nicholas Branch, who is engaged in writing a secret history of the assassination for the CIA. Branch, like us (and presumably Delillo while he was doing his research) is tasked with sorting through vast amounts of data and trying to find the coherent thread in them. This, to me, is what is so interesting about the literature of paranoia: the search for meaning.

Unfortunately, Delillo is pretty obvious in going about this. There's plenty of room for a light touch here, and one needn't say outright that the character representing the reader is puzzled by the wealth of detail and has trouble fitting it into a whole.

Probably the best moment for me was around 350 pages in, when I suddenly realized that two of the large, tangentially related networks of people in the book were obscurely related. This gave me a little rush and a sense of possibility for a time, but 350 pages is too much buildup for the amount of rush, and from there the book sags for a while before heading towards a fairly obvious conclusion.

Perhaps Delillo is sticking too closely to the historical record. The book jumps (confusingly) backwards and forwards through time, but he still can't build a sense of momentum for it, even when he has his present-day historian wonder agog at the complexity of it all. Maybe my sense of suspense was damaged by already knowing (*SPOILER*) that Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas that day.

I've always heard that this book is a good introduction to Delillo, but I didn't like it much. It just doesn't seem unusual enough to warrant the kind of attention he seems to draw. On the plus side, a lot of the dialogue was very well-done (in contrast to the mostly unremarkable prose), and I did find several of the characters to be interesting, especially Win Everett, who functions as a kind of dark mirror to Nicholas Brach, lost in tangled plots and schemes.

As an aside, I almost put up a review of this book at amazon.com, titling it "not postmodern enough." The book isn't, but I'm going to save that title for a review of, say, Pynchon or David Foster Wallace—one of the usual suspects. Or maybe I'll put down "not enough symbolism" for Moby Dick or "too limited in scope" for War and Peace.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Yeah, rite

I've been meaning to put down some thoughts on weblogs that have been kicking around in my head for quite some time now, and have come to the conclusion that it would be best to start with little finite chunks, rather than pore over some interminable essay.

I took an opportunity to rant (mildly) about the word "blog" in a recent thread on Blogroots, and was rewarded with some gratifyingly similar opinions, along with a few good suggestions for alternate words (also some good-natured snarkiness, which in hindsight I guess my complaint is kind of anal).

I was pleased enough with the discussion to check out some of the participants' sites. At occam productions, I came upon an interesting article in three parts (so far) on "the poetics of weblogs". I am a sucker for a title like this.

Yikes. Have not had time to finish this post—I'll jot down some thoughts on blogging later.