Saturday, July 15, 2006

Florida by Christine Schutt

For those of us who live in Florida, it's worth noting this short novel is not set in Florida, but rather uses the metaphor of a dreamlike, paradise-in-the-distance Florida. The writing here is beautiful, particularly in the first half, which evokes a bittersweet childhood nostalgia (sehnsucht, the Germans would say--except I'm not sure I spelled it right). Then in the second half the narrator is older and the writing, previously so precise, minimalist and lovely, is not quite as tight. It's an interesting dilemma to age a narrator from childhood (where almost inevitably they are innocent and likeable even when they're not) to adulthood when they almost inevitably become less likeable. Part of the problem is the conflict in a child's life never really seems the child's fault, but adults we expect to work out their problems. And a lot of fiction (much like memoir, as Benjamin Kunkel points out in the NYTBR this week) is people suffering through their problems rather than addressing them. My undergrad class was just talking about using the hero's adventure structure in short fiction (Joseph Campell works nicely, you might be surprised to know, with Raymond Carver's "Cathedral") and how that can help create complex fiction which is not so hopeless as much of what we read. I could have used a little more of the hero in the narrator's second half of Florida, but over all it's a far above average read, and the people who fussed about this book being nominated for a National Book Award (the year the nominees were all women who hadn't sold many copies of their books) should hang their heads.

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