Wednesday, April 06, 2005

When a narrative unravels in the last thirty pages...

... you get one very frustrated reader. That's what happened with How I Became Stupid by Martin Page. It was funny and entertaining and a pleasure to read -- until about 30 pages from the end, when it began to fall apart. I had happily followed protagonist Antoine, a 25-year-old scholar of Aramaic ("He had enough specialized knowledge on a good many subjects to stand in for a sick lecturer at a moment's notice, but not the in-depth knowledge that represented a mastery of any one subject so that he might have hoped for a permanent position" p85), on his pursuit of stupidity through alcoholism, suicide, lobotomy, medication, stockbrokering, wealth, and conspicuous consumption. And then came the "premature ghost" of a second-rate pop singer (reminiscent of Dickens), an exorcism by a quartet of Einsteins, and an encounter with a woman who must have been a relative of Twidledee and Twidledum...

I just realized that I was fine while it was Antoine making the choices, but once his choices were taken away (by said ghost, Einsteins, and woman of questionable sanity), it just stopped being funny. And I'm annoyed about it. After all, this novel has some wonderful moments, including this description of a doctor's office:

The room looked like any other doctor's office with its diplomas hanging on the beige-colored walls, its bookcase of hefty volumes magnificently bound in the hide of a cow that must have grazed on solid gold. As if the copper plaque by the door were not enough, the whole office exuded a certified aura of competence; the colors and the furniture created a feeling of gravitas. Anyone who set foot in the place was assailed by the atmosphere of solemnity, felt the monarchial presence of Medicine the all-powerful, and had no choice but to submit to it. (p68)

So, to the author, why, why, why include those final episodes? I would really like to know!

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