Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughts on All Shall Be Well...

There's a whole school of writing right now that professes the best stories involve family and how screwed up they are.  They're gawk literature.  You could go back to David Foster Wallace or start at Jonathan Franzen, or simply look at all the nonfiction that has filled up bookstores around the same framework, everyone trying to gain interest and sympathy through the absurd, and no one breaching the obvious solution to any of it: Hey, deal with it already.

Now I know, the point is, we all have our issues, and for some of us those issues are obviously to do with our upbringing (and how many other stories are there were the perspective comes from people who can't reach that conclusion?).  Making a spectator sport out of it only makes a loser out of everyone, though, the accident everyone needs to rubberneck out of morbid curiosity.  Tod Wodicka nearly succeeds in subverting this in All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well, about a family whose individual members have done an excellent job of creating walls around themselves, creating barriers against each other, from the crazy Lemko grandmother to the father and main subject who prefers the Middle Ages to the present day to the two kids who grew violently opposed to nearly all of it when their mother dies from cancer.  It's the mother who's supposed to be at the heart of it, but she's the cipher who fails in that position, the opposite of Lisbeth Salander, who gives everyone everything they want without bothering to make any meaningful connections to any of them, leaving all of them just as hollow as when she came into their lives.

Everyone blames the father, of course, and Wodicka spends a great deal of time trying to explain why, and generally concluding that he's always putting everything off, always telling himself that he's going to do the right thing, until he does the wrong thing instead.  But that's not really what's happening here, and Wodicka seems to know that, but he keeps getting distracted, too, first as a matter of course, as a way to tell his story dramatically, then as the characters' own surrogate, especially in the title of the book, which comes from an anecdote that has virtually nothing to do with anything, all as Wodicka attempts to suggest that that's exactly what's going to happen, even though it's clear that all will not end well in a conclusion that leads itself to the reader's imagination.

Perhaps writing a few more books will allow Wodicka to trust himself rather than try and be clever, try and be noticed.  All the the writers quoted on the back of the book write exactly like he does, and I've read a few of them, so that's why I know it's an epidemic.  That's modern literature for you, everyone writing and no one truly reading, and certainly no one thinking.  It's assumed that reading will lead to thinking, but that's not really the case.  When the characters go out of their way to avoid thinking and the writer goes out of their way to avoid thinking, it's asking a little much to assume that the reader is going to break that trend.  Its posturing.  This isn't Thomas Hardy and it certainly isn't Dostoevsky, the models these writers clearly cannot match.

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