why i’ve made a podcast i won’t post: an anne tyler man booker screed

Anne Tyler fan? You may want to look away.

Moriarty!

Moriarty!

Just as an FYI, my beef is as much with the Man Booker judges as with Anne Tyler the writer. Sure, I dislike her books. Quiet tales about domestic American life have been done far, far better than in her own novels. And sure, she’s a sweet lady who’s managed to make a crap ton of money while thumbing her nose at  the “authors must promote themselves” modern truth. She barely missed that train. By the time publishing companies began their slide into despair, she was already a Very Big Name in women’s fiction. She had no need for exhausting signings, granting interviews and answering the same questions over and over. She was grandfathered in, so to speak.

And I say women’s fiction because I cannot imagine many men would find her books of interest. There are no murders, no car chases, no sports (that I know of) and nothing which would require full-frontal nudity in a film adaptation.  No testosterone, basically.

There’s a difference between these mid-range books written for a female audience and those written for males. No cries of sexism! It’s considered sexist to speak what’s obvious truth, a ridiculously politically correct notion. Is there some cross-over? Sure! Is it the norm? No! There is male writing and female writing, neither is better or worse than the other but the differences are mostly clear. But that’s a topic for another day; I can’t argue that now.

My podcast about Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread was ad hoc, unrehearsed and frankly made  me come off like a crazy cat lady cornered in an alley. To Anne Tyler, it was unfair. I dismissed her with one brushing motion, letting my anger over the unfairness she made the Man Booker shortlist while Marilynne Robinson did not (though she’s a far, far superior artist, have I mentioned that?) get the better of my judgment. It’s not on her that she was chosen, not her decision to bump Robinson from the Shortlist.

 

@$*%&Q$*%

@$*%&Q$*%

 

I self-censored myself, for better or worse. Perhaps I’ll come at it again, with a cooler head. Or maybe this post is enough. But I refuse to go back on my assertion Tyler’s works are not prize-quality writing. They are geared toward an audience eager to read fuzzy, warm and reassuring stories about generations of families, all their ups and downs and dramas. While it’s true every life tells a remarkable story, not every story is worthy of turning into a novel.

I find Anne Tyler mind-numbingly dull. She’s the sort of writer who tells every single action her characters make, whether it advances the plot or not – usually not. Here’s an example of my life, written by Anne Tyler:

She woke at 8:30 in the morning, sunlight streaming through her cheap, brown Walmart curtains bought because their color was neutral and, besides, she was getting divorced after 25 years and had no energy to think much beyond the fact she needed to find her own place to live. The curtains were those ring-top ones, or whatever you call them. The texture was nubby. Overall, the effect was somewhat masculine but dreadfully dull. However, the curtains were room-darkening, allowing her to sleep almost endlessly, should she so desire. Though, sleeping almost endlessly is not good for those with depressive personalities, which she had.

Reaching for her phone, a Samsung Galaxy 6 – way too expensive and not worth the money, leading her to question why on earth she did such a stupid thing – her arm brushed the white, Egyptian-cotton sheets she’d purchased from Amazon, back when she realized she would need them, along with the cheap, brown curtains previously mentioned. Kicking aside the down comforter from Ikea, covered with a miniature rose print by a duvet cover, also from Ikea, she turned on her phone, saw what time it was, rolled back over the white sheets and went back to sleep..

  • pseudo-Anne Tyler

 

FASCINATING ISN’T IT.

Sadly, I included nowhere near the detail Anne Tyler would have. I neglected to mention how my hair looked, what I was wearing, the fact I sleep with roughly three books, a notebook and two pens every night so I can reach for them directly every morning – or at night, if I’m fighting insomnia. I could have included so much more, as she would have.

I am angry, impotently angry, not a damn thing I can do about it but rant and rave. Makes no difference as far as the Man Bookers but it does help me feel better, by a small measure. Life isn’t fair and literary prizes are political. Shock horror. But then, if no one points a finger it all slides without notice, a much worse eventuality. Anyone who cares about literary fiction should fight for what’s right, not ignore injustices such as these. When it is so blatant, so brazen how could a serious reader not notice?

At this point, I need to do one of two, things: 1). Forget Anne Tyler, ignore her completely, swallow my indignation and move on, or 2). Read more of her work, in a vain attempt to ascertain what about her is so noteworthy.

She’s driving me mad. When a thing drives you mad it means you care enough to allow it to bother you. It has power, growing into a towering force that pokes you in the night, annoys and irritates. I can’t let the topic of Anne Tyler and the inordinate amount of praise she receives bother me anymore. It’s unhealthy, not to mention a waste of time.

To read or completely obliterate from notice. That is the question. I’ll sleep on it, along with my three books, notebook and pens. On my Egyptian cotton sheets.

 

man booker 2015: i’m fucked

Things were going along well, so tidy, so well-kempt, all picket fences and Sunday afternoon lawnmowers pushed by men in white shirts with cut-off jeans, baseball caps protecting dear, shiny heads. All signs pointed to Marilynne Robinson for the Man Booker 2015 win. God was in his heaven. I sat on the front porch sipping lemonade and waiting for autumn to bring the Shortlist so I could laugh my knowing laugh, toss my head back and sneer at the world with my smug I may be a bitch but I’m a correct bitch face.

Bitch face. Suits me.

Assuming the judges weren’t planning to go to the dark side and be all let’s not give the prize to the writer who deserves it but, rather, to some unknown writer who’s produced a book whose politics are timely, themes ripped from the liberal headlines of the moment, it was a shoo-in. I could get away with skimming the other books, reading reviews and crunching the numbers with my patented prize winner crunch-u-lator. Because come on. Marilynne Robinson, writer of prose the angels sing while lounging languidly on fluffy while clouds. And pitted against what that could even come close?

Well, fuck and blast. Pitted against this:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Jesus Holy Granola Christ on Greek yogurt.

Encamped at Barnes & Noble for the duration, computer open, headphone and charger wires sticking out like nasty, nasty spider legs in all directions and hogging all available outlets I wasn’t going anywhere, Jack.  Armloads of books plopped on chairs I’d screeched across the floor to my cave like a magpie gathers shiny things to her nest, a token coffee purchased to justify my whole-hoggishness, I read the first few pages of what I presumed would be an oh so lovely book.

It would be a good read. I knew that. People liked it, Amazon reviews were effusive, critics waved their arms above their heads, spittle flying in their hurry to get out pretty words about a pretty book before their peers could get anything in edgewise. I’d read a few chapters, smiling smugly as I put it back on the shelf for the next person to buy, a perfectly enlightened person who’d read a good thing or two on Goodreads, no idea it had nearly swiped the Booker.

Propped on the table in front of me, it hit like a typhoon bitch-slapping me with a palm leaf, causing me to laugh and feel all sadly desolate and empty and what’s the point of life within the space of half an hour’s read. My hands started to itch. Then my face. I scratched where imaginary feathers tickled me, like I was allergic to incredible prose.  I was there in Barnes & Noble without adult supervision and I had my debit card. Like a sex addict stuck in a hotel room with a ready whore, pockets bulging with money and happy-to-see-you, I was sunk.

I bought it – along with a few others but that’s not important right now. I bought it.

I took it home, resumed reading it in bed, sinking feeling triggering the realization this isn’t going to be a book I can merrily skip through, finish and pronounce upon with my usual speed and cocky know-it-all manner. (My once upon a time speed, I mean, since I haven’t done anything quickly in months but that’s not quite the point.)

Like Marilynne Robinson’s novels, the book’s packed with prose you can’t rush. It’s beautiful, at times reaches poetic but with a cast of characters bigger than Lila, another thing slowing me down.  I need to catch the nuances of each, dig into his or her motivations, separate one from the other despite their fierce desire to cling together.

This is a very long novel, 736 pages densely packed with small print and those slick, thinner pages I can’t turn very quickly without having to lick my finger, and I hate when people lick their fingers. Thick, textured paper tends to have a larger font, is quickly read, turning pages eased by deckle edges giving something to grasp. The reader feels accomplishment much more quickly, these thick pages forcing the left hand to secure more and more strongly as the balance tips from pages to read to have read, left to right left to right in rapid succession.

A Little Life was designed differently, to keep it from weighing 20 lbs. and saving the wrists of its readers. Because did you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Morrell?   The wrist snapper? Who didn’t learn a lesson from that? Yanagihara’s novel is heavy but looks so innocent, what with its thin, slick pages.  It’s frustrating, the left hand sitting there all hurry up stupid while the right hand flips and flips, getting nowhere fast.

All this to say holy god, this book has a shot. IT HAS A SHOT! It doesn’t espouse an irritatingly liberal agenda that’s all politics, no substance. It shows how one life is important, how all the little life things add up to one Very Big Thing, indeed. Seven hundred thirty-six very big things. Lila‘s no slouch but

A Little Life

has…

a…

shot…

Right now, I could use a shot.

Unravel all I said about how easy this was, how eye-rollingly stupid, guttural expression of disgust stupid, the idea of putting anyone above or on par with Marilynne Robinson. Because

A Little Life

has…

a…

shot…

Fuck me, it does.