Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I am now certain

that Sara Gran is a genius; I've just read her first two novels, and while they are not QUITE as good as her brand-new one Dope (which if there is justice in the world will hit the NYT bestseller list when it is officially released in the next month or whatever) they are still remarkably well written.

The first is Saturn's Return to New York, very strong first-person narration and highly readable but a little too real-world (it's a New York/publishing roman a clef kind of thing) for my tastes, imagine a much better version of Melissa Bank--i.e. the narrator is actually very appealing, and with some interesting mother-daughter stuff--and you will not be too far off. Some good West Village settings--my psychic home is somewhere within walking distance of the Houston St. 1/9 stop, so this always gets to me.

The second is Come Closer, and it's staggeringly good, it has my highest recommendation--it's a horror tale again with brilliantly good first-person narration and subtle creepiness including a useful little volume called Demon Possession Past and Present with one of those Cosmo-style ten-question quizzes ("6-10: You are possessed. Consult with your spiritual conselor immediately. You may be a threat to the safety of yourself and your family"). It's incredibly--perfectly--well done. Really good stuff. There are a couple paragraphs about smoking that are at once surreal and stylized and also the most accurate description I can think of around that moment when you start smoking again. (Don't worry, I'm not smoking.) Or check this one out:

She was subtle at first. It wasn't like everything went wrong all at once. Suppose you're looking at a bottle of whiskey. And one part of you says, Gee, I'd really like a sip of that whiskey. Then another part pipes in and says, Well, you shouldn't, you have to drive home, and you know whiskey's very fattening. And then a third part says, Just drink it. This mental voice is new, it's a sound you're not accustomed to hearing in your own head, but it's not that different either, it's done a good job of imitating your own silent voice and you like what it's saying. Come on. Don't stop. Don't think. It'll be fun. Just drink it. Now.

You wouldn't guess that the third part wasn't you. You'd probably just drink the whiskey.

Anyway, the best thing to do if you are a book-buyer is to preorder Dope from Amazon (and don't go by the Publishers Weekly review that pops up there, the reviewer clearly didn't like the book but I think that is just WRONG!). Or get your local independent store to get it for you. Or request it at the public library. Dope deserves spectacular word-of-mouth; this is a book that everybody should read and love. Here's me raving about how amazing it is, and here's Tribe calling it the best novel of 2006.

I got these two novels at the library the other day, it was one of my best hauls of the year--first big trip in 2006, of course--but truly excessive, in the end I felt I was causing minor but definite hilarity because of the ludicrously large heap of books I was staggering around with; I actually had to take a taxi home, barely made it to the cab stand either even though I had my trusty extra-large canvas tote bag. Out of curiosity I did a rough count at home, 40 volumes weighing in the region of 50+ pounds, maybe a bit more--had to weigh them in separate lots, couldn't really hold them all at once for more than a second once I had performed the superhuman feat of getting them from stacks to circulation and out past security to the taxi. The thing is these eighteenth-century books are all a million volumes, I've got to reread the six volumes of Boswell's Life of Johnson and the three volumes of Johnson's Lives of the Poets plus a whole heap of books about Boswell and Johnson in the next week and a half or so, don't expect too much light reading round here accordingly but I will post anything especially great I come across in the other stuff. (Actually who am I kidding, I am sure I will read at least 5-6 novels as well, I have such good ones waiting now....) It's all for this conference Jan. 27 at Yale on Johnson, Boswell and biography; click here and scroll down if you'd like further details, or click here for the program--charmingly they are serving "Hebridean Scones" for breakfast, it will be interesting to see what those are. My talk's called "The Devil's in the Details" (with a nod to Thea Gilmore) and it's about detail and characterization in eighteenth-century life-writing and by extension the early novel.


  1. Right. I've preordered (though from amazon.co.uk). Excited now.

  2. Jenny, loved this entry. Everything in it--the book binging (I do know those moments of suddenly realizing I've checked out too many books for me to get home without getting into a motor vehicle of some sort, even when prepared with several canvas bags) and description of cramming for a conference paper. Ack--I've begun smoking again--discretely 2/ day, but it's freaking me out. I blame it on succumbing to holiday season stress--but now the cigs. are still on me. Need to get the knitting addiction going again to distract me from it. Maybe, also, reading all those great books you've been recommending in your entries will help me too.