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21 September 2009


Why do authors choose to use a city as a model and then call it something else? Is it trying to avoid offending someone or the needs to portray it accurately? A desire to take license?

Normally I don't pay a whole lot of attention to this issue, but Moore has annoyed me by being a bit more dismissive of the question than she would need to be. My only thoughts on why an author wouldn't just use a real city as a setting are: 1. they just don't want to be bothered by questions about why they set it there; 2. they're too lazy to get the details right, or 3. they want to sell books in other parts of Wisconsin, and the rest of Wisconsin views Madison as Liberal Tree-Hugging High-Taxing Whinyville.

But I might just be overly cynical. It's even weaker when you consider that she has used other real cities in the book, including Green Bay. I think it also bothers me because it's distracting to pop from a real city, like GB, to a fictional city, like Moore's "Troy." And anything that distracts from the narrative, I rather thought, is usually considered a bad thing. But what do I know? I'm just a nonfiction reader, and most reviews have hailed Moore's novel as the Second Coming. Anyone seen a less than positive review of this book yet?

The review I read in the Seattle Times was lukewarm - or it at least has kept me from putting a hold on the book. I'm glad I read your review, CR, so I don't have to question myself.

Madison Rocks!!

Your putting a hold on it reminded me of when I put an early hold on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. When I began reading it (at a restaurant, by myself and the only book with me), I wondered why I requested it, because it wasn't a book I would usually read. Sometimes I put a hold on everything and hope for the best.

I am in the middle of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician. I am going along for the ride. I'm the kind of reader who can't go back to read what you and others said about it.

Oh good, I'm off to look up the Seattle Times review now. Every review I read was like, "Well, there's this problem, and there's that problem, but it's Lorrie Moore, so, you know, it's great," which is NOT what I read reviews for.

Ah, the pleasures of putting holds on books willy-nilly. I do that all the time--I'm always the patron standing at the hold shelves, looking confused, and wondering why I ordered half of the books I'm picking up. So sad to have a sieve for a memory.

I do hope you like Mr. Sebastian, but it won't be for everyone. I think I was just in the right mood when I read it too. Promise me you'll just stop reading if you don't like it!

I was trying to think of another case of an author renaming a city and the one that came to me was Kings of Infinite Space by James Hynes. I am pretty sure the city in which it is set is supposed to be Austin, but isnt't. Having no connection to the place, I didn't think much of it.

I just discussed this with my sister, and we wondered if another cynical reason that Moore didn't set the book in a real city was because she doesn't want to be known as, gasp, a regional writer. Like I said, normally this sort of thing doesn't bother me. But even without reading the reviews, I was discomfited by the real city/fake city mixing--although that is probably because I am from here; a non-Midwestern reader probably wouldn't wonder why Green Bay, a real city, was included, while the rest were faked.

Hm, "Kings of Infinite Space." I must admit that book was so weird I didn't understand most of the plot, much less where it was set. :) But Austin's a fair guess, from what I can remember of it...for "office stories" I much preferred Joshua Ferris's "Then We Came to the End." Have you read that one?

I did read it Then We Came to the End, which I liked until we got to the end. That tale would be a hard one to close off, but it felt odd. I thought it was true in that when we later encounter people with whom we once spent so much time, it can come off as odd, but it felt limp.

Overall I prefer Kings of IS, but that is because I love tales of Lovecraftian monsters.

I loved her first novel, SELF-HELP, pub. 1985, but it was perfect for my zeitgeist then (post-college). What did you think of the Madison depicted in A DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER?

Ah, there's the difference. I was so used to working for (and waiting on) human monsters that the thought of Lovecraftian monsters in the workplace was too much for me! :)

Yes, I've read short stories of hers that I liked too, although I must say I've never considered her a super-talent (unlike, say, Laurie Colwin). I don't remember anything about A Dive from Clausen's Pier except that I was totally bored by it, but I do remember not being distracted from the narrative by its setting or setting details, which is really all I ask.

Forgot to ask: What did you think about the Madison in Clausen's Pier?

Did you know Jodi Picoult wrote a Wonder Woman comic? Good god, it's true: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1401214878/jodipicoult00

Jodi Picoult is insidious. And "The Pact" is utter garbage. Everyone whispers to one another. What the fuck. Do people really go around whispering? Or this just in bad Lifetime movies? And, how many times do you suppose Jodi has Wonder Woman whispering?

Okay. Sorry 'bout that. I'm calm now.

Is it just me, or does the cover to the Moore novel look like something the "Left Behind" authors rejected?

I've created another anti-Jodi P crusader! YAY! And you're doing a better job of it than I do! All I can say about whispering is, NO--as far as I can tell, everyone is out there busily shouting at each other and into cell phones.

I don't even have the strength to go look at that Wonder Woman comic. Perhaps later...

Oh, my, your comment about the cover design for Moore's book being apropos for "Left Behind" is HI-larious. As Bert would say, you have won the Internets for the day with that one. I'm not sure what the cover signifies, but then, I'm a dumb Midwestern hick, so I'm sure it was meant to be over my head.

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