Thursday, January 8, 2009
I have two unbendable rules as I plow my way through the National Book Award's nearly 400 (that's them up there) fiction winners and finalists: 1) Read them all; 2) Read every word.
The quest, which started about 10 years ago when a friend gave me "The Shipping News" as a Christmas gift, has provided me great pleasure, both in tracking down and reading some of our best literature.
On rare occasions, though, I run into a book that causes more throbbing head pain than satisfaction.
"Frog," by the experimentalist Stephen Dixon, is one such animal. Almost without exception, I read books start to finish before moving on to the next. Is there any other way? But I've been trying to dissect "Frog" for the better part of a year, picking it up and putting it down in agonizing spurts, unable to digest it an orderly manner. If you haven't already noticed, it's been sitting off to the right under my "Now Reading" section for quite some time. I'm at page 554 -- and slowly counting.
This sucker is 769 pages and includes one 60-page chapter that is a single, dialogue-laced paragraph. One reviewer called it a "Joycean monolith."
Pynchon can be challenging. Gaddis is no piece of cake.
But Dixon, in degree of difficulty, tops them all.
This is one I really wish I could pass on to J.G. for her "Guilty Conscience" reading challenge. But that would violate the rules. Nope, it's "Frog" all the way. No exceptions.