If the weekend before last was all about comfort reading, this past weekend found me reading somewhat outside of my comfort area. Both books were fiction, and both were by authors I'd never read before.
I brought home Alice Munro's new story collection Too Much Happiness because I'd always wanted to read something by Munro. She's a Canadian author, and I have always wanted to be Canadian; and she's won lots of awards for her many short story collections. And I did like it, but I only finished the first four stories (of ten total). They were interesting enough, and I really liked her writing, but I just didn't want to read any more. I tried to read the fifth one, but my attention kept wandering, and eventually I realized it was because I was just done with this one. I wonder if somewhere along the way I lost my ability to enjoy short stories; I used to really love them, but now I find it very hard to finish many collections of them. This doesn't really have anything to do with liking or not liking the author; I LOVE Carol Shields (another Canadian) and I never have been able to finish her Collected Stories. I will think on this.
The other novel I tried was Sam Lipsyte's The Ask, which I enjoyed in a strange sort of way and finished, but don't know that I'd suggest it to anyone else. Lipsyte's rather a darling of the lit crit crowd (they love him at the Elegant Variation blog, and also at The Believer magazine), and his writing is interesting, but I don't know that I need to read any more of his books. In this one, his main character, Milo Burke, is stuck working as an institutional development officer at a New York City private (and lower-tier) university, charged with getting donations out of people known as "the asks"--and he's not very good at it. Eventually he's fired, only to be brought back provisionally when an old friend of his dangles the prospect of a large donation in front of the school, but demands Burke's involvement. Of course, he wants something in return, but Milo's almost too busy being unemployed, trying to keep his young son delivered to various day cares, and feeling vaguely that something's going wrong in his marriage to keep on task with either "the ask" or the job the ask wants him to do.
The man does have a flair with words. Consider his paragraph describing one of Milo's and his wife's fallback day-care provider's set-up:
"Now we waited for Christine, the neighborhood babysitter. Any moment she would roar up in her minivan and I would take Bernie downstairs, stuff him inside the vehicle with the other kids Christine watched, or maybe abandoned to watch each other while she scouted fiesta-mix specials at Costco. We knew the price of Christine's criminally low price, namely that under her supervision, or lack thereof, Bernie was becoming a criminal. Child care was like everything else. You got what you paid for, and your child paid for what you could not pay for." (p. 42.)
I'm describing it poorly. As noted, it wasn't uninteresting, but it also didn't set me on fire. And is it just me, or do male "literary fiction" authors always have a real fascination with masturbation (and describing it)? Of course, now that I mention it, I can't think of another book illustrating that point, but I do remember reading other novels and thinking, wow, men and masturbation, it must mean more to them than a woman can really appreciate.*
*Well, this paragraph should lead to some interesting search results and traffic. But I couldn't not mention it.