Who’s Your Mommy?

That dependable beacon of contemporary literature, MOTEV, has weighed in on more titles. In fact, as much as I love Ian McEwan (I consider him to be one of our greatest living writers and there is, in fact, something of a McEwan shrine on one of my bookshelves), I have to agree with her slightly about Enduring Love. I genuinely believe it to be the weakest of McEwan’s novels because, as MOTEV suggests, the artifice calls attention to itself.

But I suspect the faults have more to do with McEwan’s inability to follow through on Enduring Love‘s fantastic opening set piece, which is among one of the greatest things he’s ever written. One of McEwan’s literary specialties is in showing how one act affects other lives. In Atonement, we see how a childhood act of cruelty leads to guilt and deceit, even in chronicling the details of the act. The Cement Garden shows with devastating clarity how the loss of parents alters the lives of children. But Enduring Love‘s great fallacy is in intellectualizing the trauma rather than filtering emotion through McEwan’s cut-to-the-bone clinical prose.

The other night, I found myself defending Something Wild‘s spotty third act with someone. I still consider Something Wild to be my favorite of Jonathan Demme’s films, largely because the first hour is such a breathless array of madness, with the tone alternating between demented screwball comedy, melodrama, sexual charge, and the poignant revisitation of family. Is it a flawed film? Absolutely. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe Demme will ever top that first hour in his career.

So what of it, readers? Are there any books like Enduring Love or films like Something Wild that you find yourself falling over, yet looking the other way when the last act gets derailed by clunky narrative or, worse yet, a deus ex machina?

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  1. Maybe because I’m part scientist, but I bought Enduring Love hook, line and sinker. I think it’s I-Mac’s best book and one of my all-time top five, maybe top 3. If there’s a clunker in it for me, it’s the character of Clarissa, who is neither sympathetic nor terribly three-dimensional. In fact, she’s kind of flat and boring. But other than that, I’m totally down.

  2. What Jimmy said, on all counts. Def. my favorite McEwan (granted, I’ve only read his last 4) because it’s intelligent, absolutely gripping and damn, the man’s writing makes me insanely jealous.

  3. For McEwan, I like Black Dogs — the only one of his I’ve read.

    For books that falter in the endgame, I tend to think of Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers. As long as the action is in Vietnam or California, it’s great … then when they all end up in Mex-Psycho, the hooie factor overwhelms everything else. Or for books that are only really good right dab in the middle, I’d have to go with Percival Everett’s Erasure — sorry to point this out, but My Pafology seems to be the best part of the whole book and better than the other 3 by Everett that I’ve read, too. How about Richard Ford’s Independence Day — ooof! wite on my nobes — where the last 40 pages or so just don’t need to be there. The book’s already over.

  4. I love McEwan (not so much that I’ll buy him in hardback, however). Has anyone read Saturday yet? My favorites of McEwan’s books are Black Dogs and Atonement. I agree that the opening of Enduring Love is magnificent and, unfortunately, the rest of the novel never quite rises to the same heights (ha!). I’m feeling similarly about Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution (which I did purchase in hardback). The beginning is absolutely brilliant, but then Chabon gets too caught up in details and the vivid images and wordplay of the first few chapters dissipates.

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