By Lisa Halliday
Kicking off here with the increasingly common caveat that there is an excellent chance that if you read this book, which I put down after 110 pages because I couldn’t stand it and it made me queasy, you will probably like it more than I did.
The narrative bounces between two very different but subtly linked stories. The second of these, which I did not get to, because the first section wrecked the whole project for me, might be the stronger of the two sections. It’s quite possible that the second section redeems the first section. I’ll never know, nor do I care to find out.
I had concentric circles of gripes with Asymmetry.
I went into it cold, which is how I prefer to read a novel the first time. I read Halliday’s bio early on in the undertaking, and it struck me that she may have published this novel later in her life (for a first novel), which, as an old, gave me some hope, so I googled her.
At which point I learned that the protagonist in the story who fucks a famous older novelist was based on Halliday’s actual experience of fucking a famous older novelist; Phillip Roth, if memory serves.
In the novel the older writer pays off the younger writer’s college loan. She went to Harvard. Which left me wondering, did Roth pay off Halliday’s college loans because she was an enjoyable sex partner? Did she go to Harvard? I was curious, but not curious enough to google it!
If I had done sex to a much older famous writer, you know what I would not do? Write an imperceptibly veiled first novel about it!
It’s true that Asymmetry is more than that, but it is also that. Which is kind of gross. But, worse than gross, it felt cheap and demonstrates a lack of imagination as well as taste.
My second issue with the novel is the mere ok-ness of the language. Halliday is not a particularly visual writer, nor does she have much of an eye for detail. These shortcomings weren’t in and of themselves deal-breakers; she’s certainly not a *bad* wordsmith, but the language on the page was average.
What killed the book for me, the radioactive core, was the crap story telling.
Two examples in particular come to mind:
— A strand in the story involving the protagonist’s neighbor, which felt like dead weight. It was dull and seemed to not do much for the story.
— A passage in the book with page after page of accounts of baseball games. I think, I hope, that these pages, which by this point in the story were torture for me, were meant to suggest that the flame had been extinguished in the romance. Which is fine. But if you’re going to communicate that through extensive play-by-plays of baseball games, I’m going to stop reading your book.