Friday, May 29, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things: A Book Review

White People Problems
Julia Pierpont is a graduate of the NYU Creative Writing Program.

That is all you need to know. It explains a great deal.

She was a Rona Jaffee Foundation Graduate Fellow. She was a Stein Fellow. She has won awards for her writing. So she must be a brilliant writer, yes? Literary agents went looking for her.

AMONG THE TEN THOUSAND THINGS is her work of debut fiction. The prose is, indeed, very pretty. The sentences are well crafted. The paragraphs sing with the rhythm of syllables and pauses.

Agent Elyse Cheney sold the book to Random House (which provided the review copy in use here) for six figures. Clearly the publishing industry expects big things from Julia Pierpont.

What is the novel about?

The blurbs will tell you it is the story of a marriage falling apart. As a reader, I will tell you it is a narrative of New York City whingers. Ah Christ, the angst and the mental suffering. Everyone in the novel is so in tune to themselves that a reader cannot like them. Unless you are part of the New York City whinging crowd, in which case you'll find their portrayals brilliant.

Did I mention that the prose is lovely? It's a beautifully written novel.

The problem comes in the entertainment factor. There isn't much storytelling to speak of.

So we have Deb and Jack and their two teenage cartoon children. He's a serial adulterer and she's a failed ballerina who found herself up the stick and Jack did the right thing. The children do and say what stereotypical teens do and say. They're as self-centered as their parents, and equally dull.

Jack's latest piece on the side sends Deb a litany of sexting and assorted emails and the daughter reads it and then the son and then Deb and then Jack's art installation goes bad and the marriage is just falling apart. Then we get to the middle of the novel and the author shifts to "too cute by half" mode with a series of staccato sentences that reveal the fates of the characters.

Well, so, no need to read the rest when you know what's going to happen and when the daughter runs away from home you know she'll be found because the author told us earlier so you flip through to see if anything important happens but it doesn't. The whinging carries on to the end.

You read a book and wonder how such shite gets published. The publishers are pursuing students of creative writing who write about people like those in the publishing industry, characters that the publishing industry can relate to. The rest of us, the common readers, are supposed to see the brilliance, or be considered Philistines who don't know good literature when it smacks them in the face.

So I must be a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal because I found nothing to like about this novel. The writing is there. But it isn't enough to make a full-length novel. Tell me a story.

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