Saturday, March 1, 2003

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what's going back to the library

On recommendation I picked up the 60's counterculture novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, but I made it only about halfway through before ditching it and kicking it back to the library. I think I must be averse to stream-of-consciousness writing. I'm more of a narrative person, more into plot than atmospheric description and rambling. Much of this book was written in that style, unfortunately. It was fascinating at first: internal monologues from the protagonist with a huge breadth of references, classical and pop and historical; madcap Yippie-style pranks and social gatherings described with running commentary; timeshifts from flashback to present day, and similar shifts from first person to third person writing, treating the focus character as a narrator and then a protagonist and back again. It was neat, for a while. I was hip to denying my usual preference for solid narrative and wallowing in the craziness.

But, inevitably, the Old Me came back and noticed that I was skimming some of the descriptive scenes in favor of trying to find out what happened next, which wasn't much. It was mostly atmospheric, which is great if you dig that kind of thing, but I don't.

It wouldn't have been as bad with a likeable protagonist. I've read a lot of absolute shite in my time solely because I liked the narrator/main character(s) (usually established in prior not-as-bad books). And I might've slogged through this book had I actually liked the main fella. But although he was positioned to seem enlightened and free in comparison to those around him (students, the bourgeoisie, fraternity upperclass cliquey types), he mostly behaved like a self-absorbed, self-serving, deliberately provocative prat, seeking instant drug-induced enlightenment impatiently for no motivation that I could see. I'm not saying that every book needs a Grade-A Swell Person for a protagonist. I'm just saying that I didn't want to spend my free time with this guy, which is what I was doing through reading the book. Godalmighty, what an insufferable jackass.

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