>> 20 July 2009

Underworld Underworld by Don DeLillo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What should I say about a book that took me nearly six months to read? A book that twice, in frustration, I set aside and vowed not to finish? A book that contains 825 pages, dozens of characters, and essentially no plot? A book in which, most of the characters and conflicts never get any resolution?

In short: I'm glad I read it.

Here is what's good about Underworld:

Don Delillo has a an absolutely perfect ear for dialogue. The novel contains numerous and lengthy discussions about garbage and recycling (literally) and against all odds, I read them with great interest. This is due in large part to the quality of the dialogue. It moves quickly and unexpectedly and was easily one of the strongest elements of the novel.

Additionally, there are a great deal of very fascinating ideas that are discussed at great length in Underworld. Here's a list off the top of my head: baseball, art history, chess, trash, consumerism, nuclear war, graffiti, poverty, infidelity, AIDS, the internet, the nature of miracles, loss of identity, genetic disease, high art v. low art, and so on.

Now, here's what isn't so good about Underworld

THE LENGTH! If this book was about 300 pages shorter, I would give it five out of five stars. As it is, there are just too many story lines that never turn into anything and too many characters who I was forced to follow around aimlessly for a chapter or two before they disappeared into some other story. As good as Don Delillo is, he suffers (in this novel, at least) from a pretty serious case of "watch-me-write," the disease that some writers get where they think that because they are such talented wordsmiths, their readers will be interested in anything they have to say. Not so, Don. Next time get an editor who isn't afraid of the old red pencil.

Overall, I can't really say that I recommend this book. I can think of many books that are better than Underworld, which is, in my opinion, not even Delillo's best novel (White Noise get's my vote for that one). With that said, this novel is unique and challenging in many ways that make it worth reading. If you have six months to kill.

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>> 02 July 2009

The Yiddish Policemen's Union The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A "literary" take on the classic detective novel. In the alternate reality established in this book, Meyer Landsman is a detective in Sitka, Alaska, a special territory set aside for Jews after World War Two. When a mysterious murder occurs, Landsman, for reason personal and professional, wants to get to the bottom of the case before Sitka is returned to the US and he loses his jurisdiction.

Good: Interesting premise, characters, and plot. The culture of "black-hat" Judaism was interesting. And, as anyone who has read Chabon's other works knows, the prose is excellent.

Bad: The first 50 pages or so of the book drag a little bit. The very end of the novel (I'm talking about the last 5ish pages) fell flat and didn't really do justice to what was otherwise a very good book.

I recommend it!

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