By Steve Erickson
GoodReads rating: 3.5 out of 5
GL rating: 1 out of 10 stars
(Comments originally posted on FB April 5, 2017)
AGAINST BAD NOVELS
One of my goals for 2017 was to try to start reading novels again. My efforts toward that goal, unfortunately, have reinforced my prior aversion to the form. It's not an aversion to the form; it's an aversion to worthless novels, and way too many of them are worthless.
What could be worse than wasting 2 hours in a worthless movie? Wasting 30 hours on a worthless novel!
The latest offender: Shadowbahn, by Steve Erickson. Great premise, first 20 pages were promising, and then it devolves into complete garbage.
I thought I learned after getting burned by Nabokov's "invitation to a beheading," and an Ali Smith effort the title of which eludes me: with Shadowbahn I read the first 5 pages before buying, and liked them. Compelling premise. I think I also opened up to the back third and read and liked a few pages there. Of course it got great reviews, or at least a great review, in the Washington Post.
But the inescapable problem is that you can't tell if a novel is a dog until it's way way way way way too late. It's like buying an album before they had listening stations or iTunes. You're buying blind. But it's worse! You can tell an albums sucks in as few as 20 minutes!
A co-worker suggested that Man Booker novel nominees are better than their National Book Award and Pulitzer peers, so maybe that will be guide in the future.
Another thing I'll look for when dipping in to scan a few pages in the middle of a novel is evidence of writing where interesting stuff actually happens (a plot!) or interesting observations are made about the people in the story (characters!) as opposed to vague pointless rambling.
For my next 2 novels I'm going with known winners. I'm going to re-read "The Sun Also Rises," which is either my favorite or tied-for-favorite novel of all time, and then "White Noise". It's been years since I've read either of them, curious to see what senior citizen Steve thinks of them vs 20-something Steve.