I'm reading Music for Torching by A.M. Homes, which I picked up on our last excursion to the Book Barn. In a way, it is full of clichés—it's about an unhappy suburban couple who try to escape their problems by burning down their house. This act in itself is not a cliché (which probably saves the novel), but almost all of their thoughts and feelings about their circumstances are. They feel "trapped," jealous of each other's glimpses of happiness; they commit minor adulteries out of boredom (or Paul does, at least). It's all very Updikean.
Nonetheless, I care what happens to Paul and Elaine, and there are lots of things in the book I like (so far). Their two boys remind me of the children in Joy Williams' fiction: precocious and uncanny. Which is fine by me, since kids in novels are only interesting when they're improbably adult-like (or "adultish" to borrow a word from the book, applied to the parents, not the children). I like the dialogue, though not always Homes's needless additions, as in: "'They're safe enough,' the cop says, answering a question that hasn't been asked." Uh, thanks, I know the question hasn't been asked, because my short-term memory is intact.
I'm also interested in Paul and Elaine's relationship, not so much the petty affairs and whether Elaine is aware of them, but how much they actually like each other. They're clearly resentful and sick of each other, and sometimes downright hateful, but there's also still attraction there, and tenderness (Elaine occasionally finds him "cute"), and dependency—Elaine may find Paul kind of intolerable but she also panics at the thought of him leaving her. It's not romantic, but I find it endearing. And, like, "real." The longer I know someone, the more easily they annoy me, and the less their ability to annoy me matters to our friendship's sustainability.
I'm thinking there's some kind of tradeoff with a book, where I can keep reading even if I'm not enamored with the writing itself as long as I identify with the characters or material in some way. I mean if I'd encountered this many clichés in a book about, I don't know, a guy who really likes the History Channel, I would have dropped it after page 1 (which includes the phrases "to try and put things right again" AND "effort to make everything good again" … ugh).
Here are a couple of bits I related to. Elaine's mom shows up at the house a day or two after the fire to see what's up, since they haven't been answering their phone:
"Well, I tried to call," the mother says. "I needed to talk. When I talk to you, I feel better."Right? Isn't this one of the three main crises of adulthood? The reversal that occurs when you realize your parents need you as much if not more than you need them? I forget the other two.
"It's supposed to be the other way around," Elaine says.
"Is Paul not well?" the mother asks.Better bald than balding. What a great way to put it, the shave-it-off mindset.
"In what way?" Elaine asks.
"What happened to his hair? He looks like he's getting chemo."
"Oh, that," Elaine says. "That's what they do. When it starts to go, they go with it. They get rid of it. Better bald than balding."
"He's a shaved fish."
"It's a control thing."
If you've come this far, here's your reward: Kathy and I have three joke poems up on Verse. There's a couple more coming soon in Artifice. Laugh it up, fuzzballs.
Why do my widgets keep breaking?