Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Burning by Thomas Legendre

This first novel is written by a friend of mine from graduate school, so perhaps I was predisposed to like it, but it's a fun and rare combination of commerical and intellectual (read: sex and ideas in one). Tom first sought to publish the novel in the United States, but agents weren't sure how to sell it, so instead he found an agent in the UK where he is currently living. The book was a big success in England and so his publisher (Little, Brown) has put out a US edition. Which just goes to show: persist persist persist. When I knew him Tom was one of those writers who wouldn't begin the rest of his day until he'd written a page which also goes to show: write write write.

Anyway, what I found most original about the novel is the way that it takes a character trait (the protagonist is an economist) and uses that as part of the third person narration. It's common to have a first person narrator in which an economist (or farmer or what-have-you) uses the tools/lingo of his/her trade to illustrate his/her story, but it's much rarer to have a third person narrator do it. As a result, the novel has a worldview and it feels constructed by an author--more idea-driven then it would have felt in first person. What I admire is how the economic ideas here (and they're tied to environmentalism, which was a fresh and compelling linking for me) invade the plot, the voice, everything. When a character has an affair, it's in economic terms. When characters gamble it's literal and metaphoric. This is in the end a much more sophisticated and complex book than either the title or the cover, which involves flesh, water, and kissing, suggest.

It's a joy to see my fellow MFA-ers do what they trained to do. I'm totally jealous.

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