To continue our discussion on books, I was looking for contemporary fiction which would speak of the existential issues of mankind, of the aspirations of the young generation today, of the influence of technology on the life style and the mentality of contemporary society, and of the eternal questions as they are reflected in this generation. I have to add that in recent years, I have become aware of the ‘post modern’ influence on the arts, and usually I have not been comfortable with that style. I don’t wish to explore the depths of that philosophical point of view in this post. It deserves a post of its own. But I will mention two prominent characteristics of the post modern viewpoint. The narrative often embraces paradox and irony, and there is a general belief that two or more contrary ‘truths’ can exist together.
About a year ago, I discovered Ian McEwan, and read ‘Saturday’ and ‘Amsterdam’ by him. My impression was that he has a beautiful language, and is a writer of classic gifts. Then I began to read his ‘Black Dogs’, and was unable to continue to the end. It was the first time I began to wonder whether the post modern point of view had begun to find it’s way into contemporary literature. This year I discovered Margaret Atwood, and continued to read her after purchasing a Kindle. The Kindle was bought primarily to make it easier for me to purchase recent books in English, without waiting a long time for the books to be sent to me. After getting the Kindle, I discovered T.C. Boyle and Richard Ford. I feel that I’m beginning to learn the nature of the fine writing of this generation.
Sometimes it takes a while to acclimate to a different culture. I didn’t expect the new literature in the west to express my viewpoint, or to be concerned with the issues that most concerned me. I’m an Israeli, steeped in the Jewish culture, and also an old man. I am aware that society has moved forward, and that I haven’t kept up in many ways. But as I have mentioned on occasion, I’ve always believed that a sign of great art is that when we enjoy it, even when coming from very different circumstances than those of the artist, we feel that the artist is touching on some meaningful points of our own lives.
In reading Atwood, I enjoyed her lively imagination, and her beautiful poetic prose. It seemed that she was a vehement critic of certain failures of society, especially in relation to woman’s place in society. But I was also dismayed by a prevalent sense of alienation in her writing, the pessimism, and the almost constant sadness. I read three of her dystopian volumes. I believe that she has some very important things to say. But at the same time, there is a sadness and a helpless attitude in her writing that is very discouraging. ‘Cat’s Eye’ was a masterpiece. But it was fatalistic, unhappy. And it’s major character was alienated throughout her life, and unable to enjoy love or a healthy union with a partner. Worst of all, I had the impression that her characters found it hard to make life changing decisions. ‘The Robber Bride’ was another fine book of hers that I read. And here too, I felt that choice had been overcome by fatalism.
I discovered T.C. Boyle a couple of months ago. I have read two of his books, and have already bought a third. The first I read was ‘The Women’. It tells the story of the women in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life. I was familiar with Wright’s work, and had even read some of his writing. I felt that I knew a little bit about this great American architect. I didn’t know much about his personal life. When reading the book, it seemed a bit like reading about the life of a celebrity. I believe the story was built on a skeleton of relevant facts. And it was very interesting to get a lot of information on his private life, and be able to see him from a different perspective. But I felt that someone who was unfamiliar with the work of the man, would have gotten a very mistaken impression of what his life was all about. For each of us has good characteristics and bad. And by ignoring all his good points, the man seemed like a megalomanic donkey. In reading some of the reviews after having read the book, I encountered such opinions. But I believe that the portrait was twisted and warped.
The fourth contemporary writer that I encountered was Richard Ford. His name turned up in a review of another book which I decided not to read. But from what I did read about Ford, I thought that he might be a good example of a prime author of this 21st century. I chose to read his book, ‘Independence Day’ first, because it had received two prestigious awards. It was very well written. There was both subtlety and depth in the drawing of the characters, and a psychological understanding of the forces at play, between the lines of the narrative. But the hero of the story was in fact an anti-hero. This was a man who avoided commitment at all cost. He was unable to love, and had great difficulty parenting his children. Like other characters I had met in recent reading, he seemed a sort of helpless loser who was pushed and dragged through life by fate. He spoke of ‘existence’ as being enough for him. There seemed no drive to achieve something that was greater than himself. It wasn’t only that he was devoid of any great aspirations. He seemed unaware of anything greater or more important than banal human affairs.
And so my friends, I would like to ask you who are more involved in the English language culture than I am… is this all there is? Are there other new authors out there who give us a spark of hope? Is there a more balanced approach to the affairs of man? Or is this the spirit of the times today. I know that sadness is as much a part of life as happiness. But are books today offering just the sorrow of life? I have received some recommendation for new reading in response to the first part of this article. I haven’t really checked them out yet, because we are in the middle of the holiday season. But I would be very happy to receive still more recommendations, and reading material I might try. It is not that I have nothing to read. I have never run out of things to learn, and I can continue to read the wisdom of the past and to enjoy it. But I would like very much to understand the direction of today’s generation, and I was hoping to find something a little more positive. I do appreciate your comments.