I finished reading Uncle’s Dream by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The gist of the book is that the protagonist of the novel, Maria Alexandrovna, is trying to manipulate an old, mentally ill prince into marrying her daughter so that they can have his money. Meanwhile, Maria’s social rivals and another suitor for her daughter have plans of their own that Maria must thwart. But Maria is clever and eloquent, the leading gossip and best at controlling conversation in her small village. She manages to talk herself out of all kinds of predicaments. Overall I found the book readable, but as a comedy it was lacking. The descriptions can get dense and the action moves slowly compared to other comedies. On the plus side, the characters are fleshed out and motives explained in such detail that all their crazy antics are completely believable. The main character, Maria, is dislikable, and yet the reader still roots for her because of the sheer audacity of her schemes. And unlike other Dostoyevsky novels, the characters do not repent and find redemption. After Maria’s scheme is foiled and she and her family must leave the village in total humiliation, we see in the epilogue that another of their marriage schemes succeeded and they get exactly what they want— riches and social status.
I read A Visit from the Goon Squad. The book was told from different characters’ point of views, their stories interwoven and jumping around chronologically. All the children are miraculously precocious and the adults keep making mistakes. *SPOILERS* The author was really creative in that each character told his or her story differently, switching between first person and third person, structured in subchapters, or a newspaper article, even a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation. How a character structured his story revealed a lot about his personality. In the title, the “Goon Squad” is time. None of the characters have a traditional happy ending; most come from broken homes and have failed marriages. The future is never what they imagine; time robs them of their original dreams. And yet they find some semblance of peace in a form that they do not expect.
I stopped by the airport bookstore and bought a Haruki Murakami novel, Sputnik Sweetheart. I finished reading it the next day. Afterwards, I read Norwegian Wood. A friend recommended those books. Some of the passages were very moving, and Murakami perfectly captured feelings of longing. I didn’t particularly like the books, probably because it is so difficult to empathize with the characters. The main characters live self-described hollow, aimless lives, usually going by routine, reading books and generally not interacting with their peers. Then they’re attracted to manic dissociative girls, the kind of quirky girl that could be played by Zooey Deschanel, the kind of girl that cannot properly function in society. And I’m really sick of this trope, that glorifies dysfunction as some exciting gem amidst the one-dimensional, the conformists, the sophists. Because in reality it is very painful to live with a crazy person. And “normal” people are really not so stupid and unthinking like lemmings, and everyone is facing some kind of battle and has hopes and dreams and multidimensionality so I get annoyed by characters that make these sweeping generalizations of the human race and are generally apathetic and unloving. And what also annoyed me is the characters are overly detached, and never have a sense of urgency. When something comes up, like say… the girl you like has mysteriously disappeared, well then, let’s just eat food! Keep the reader in suspense. Eat food, listen to records that showcase my cosmopolitan tastes in classical music and jazz, namedrop some famous books and authors, talk about wells and cats, drink whiskey. Then after having pages of description about preparing food and domestic stuff, the kind of simple visceral actions that everyone can relate to that give warm feelings of home and self-actualization, throw in some jarring imagery and erotic sex scenes. And that is the formula for a Murakami novel derived from a sample size of two. There is such hopelessness in the books, characters living lives of quiet desperation. Do readers buy into this? Yes, people struggle and have to do stuff they don’t like doing to get by, but it has always been like this; it is not as though this is some recent development of modern living, if anything we now spend less time acquiring the necessities and more time pursuing our interests. And in the real world, there is more resiliency, more love, and even dull activities do not seem so pointless when motivated by love.
Since I was a child, my favorite movie has been Jurassic Park. All the books I had read on dinosaurs only gave descriptions and simple illustrations. When I first watched the movie, seeing dinosaurs come to life filled me with a sense of awe and excitement. My eyes lit up every time I recognized a dinosaur from a book. Brontosaurus! T-Rex! Dilophosaurus! Velociraptor!
Now that I’m older, I know that extracting dinosaur DNA from fossilized mosquitoes is just science fiction. Now that I’m older, I understand the plot and feel the tension caused by the mortal peril the characters are in (vs. when I was young, when I was like “HAHA, that guy sitting on the toilet just got eaten by a T-Rex”). But I still love the movie. Jurassic Park reminds me of my childhood dreams, some of which are not impossible—and these are the dreams I can make a reality. I was going through my old school files. There was a poster I made in elementary school of what my goals in life were. Written in neon pink gel pen (gel pens were all the rage) and accompanied by doodles, my goals were to: “1. Make the olympic hockey team. 2. Have a business that gave people jobs.” It’s probably too late for goal #1. But for goal #2, I have my whole life.
Anyway, Jurassic Park is based off the book of the same name by Michael Crichton. I just finished reading another book of his, The Andromeda Strain. It is about an extraterrestrial microorganism that wipes out an entire town, and the scientists studying the organism to prevent it from spreading. The book felt very modern, despite the fact that it was first published in 1969. The only times I felt the book’s age were statements that said something to the effect of “Computers are amazing! They can do advanced computations that would take humans years to compute in less than a second.” Now computers are ubiquitous and this fact is taken for granted. Without spoiling the plot, the book is really cool. I was refreshing terms from high school biology over the course of the thriller– gram negative, amino acids, enzymes, carbonic acid. And there are “primary documents” and transcripts interspersed throughout the book. Like when the characters are analyzing the results of x-ray crystallography, there is a picture of the result. And SPOILER ALERT, it was ironic that the Andromeda strain became benign on its own, whereas all the safeguards put in place to prevent the strain’s spread would have only exacerbated the problem and caused the crisis they were trying to avoid.