THREE STAGES OF AMAZEMENT by Carol Edgarian is the story of a marriage. The novel takes place in the not far distant past, when Obama has recently been elected president and the markets have plummeted. Lena and Charlie have started their lives anew. Charlie was the head of surgery at Mass General Hospital. He has left this behind to move to San Francisco to start up a new company that specializes in medical robotics although this is not the best time to look for venture capitalists to fund his research.
They say there are two sides to every story. In the case of PORTRAITS OF A MARRIAGE, there are three. There is the story of the erstwhile housekeeper cum second wife, Judit; the pragmatic and loving first wife, Ilona; and there is Peterâ€™s story, the husband of wife number one and wife number two, whom we find at the end of the novel, lost and destitute. It is not a complicated story, the one told here; nor is it particularly unique or poignant, though the story is laced with insight. The story told here, the story, as the title suggests, of a marriage, is told in straight-forward narrative, albeit from three perspectives, and set against the fabric of a damaged Hungary between the wars. It is an elegant and beautiful book, a rich tapestry on love, marriage and class. It is, as well, deeply psychological, almost Jamesianly so.
This is perhaps the bravest book Iâ€™ve ever read. It is searingly personal, raw and and stark. It portrays its creator, the author, in a relief, almost without exception, that is equally painful and tragic. There is no turning away, no place the writer hides–and consequently little relief afforded the reader. There she is, the new widow, Joyce Carol Smith–the persona behind the writer Joyce Carol Oates–struggling to stay alive amidst blinding grief, as revealed in a journey the destination of which is unsure.
This is a richly absorbing and dark, domestic drama that combines the natural, icy world of the Alaska frontier with a story of deceptive love and betrayal. If Steinbeck and Hemingway married the best of Anita Shreve, you would get David Vann’s CARIBOU ISLAND. His prose is terse and the characterizations are subtle, but knifing. Like Shreve, his characters are saturated with loneliness and disconnection with their lives, with each other, in a pit of misperception, despair and exile, in a conflict of selves that beat each other down. The topography and remoteness of this “exclave” state, a place non-contiguous physically with its legal attachment (of the US) serves as one of many metaphors to the attachments exemplified in this story.
January 18, 2011
Â· Judi Clark Â· No Comments
Tags: David Vann, Fictional Biography, Identity, Life Choices, Married Life, Nature Â· Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Alaska, Character Driven, Contemporary, Family Matters, Reading Guide, Wild West
Many people think of Alaska as wildness with great open spaces in a mountainous wildernous with sub-arctic cold, dark and long winters, ever-light summers, bears and moose. This is not the Alaska of David Vann. His Alaska consists of what sounds like an area most likely the Tongass National Rain Forest. This is the northernmost rainforest on earth, and it extends into southeast Alaska. Trees here are huge but grow close together here much like in the Amazon. It rains up to 400 inches a year in this part of Alaska and the days are often dark and dismal with damp that cuts right through you. There is no vista in this forest; all you have are the trees that hem you in.
It’s been years since a novel’s impact was so colossal that I was unable to pick up and focus on another novel one, two, four–even twenty-four hours after closing the book. The force of Franzen’s characters, particularly Patty Berglund, pierced me with such legion intensity that I am temporarily ruined for the next book. I apologize for the lack of restraint in my accolades–that which is diametrically opposed to Franzen’s utterly fluid and immaculate prose, his graceful, poised restraint.