Monday, November 16, 2009

The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers

The Time of our Singing is a beautiful lesson. The book has tremendous scope. Powers is clearly a genius.

But he's not a novelistic genius. He's the type of genius you get during a Fundamentalist Era. Axes to grind. Proofs. The evidence arrayed.

I happen to agree with him more or less all the time. Perhaps that's why I find the book disappointing.

Well: Why I found the book disappointing. I confess I stopped reading it (reason enough to stop reading this note). The book is too long. It's ambitious and often gorgeously written, but the prose seems to strike, too often, the same key.

In this regard it's like Norman Rush's Mating: relentlessly, the same brilliant voice.

I guess we can't produce a Tolstoy. We are too stylistic, too egotistical. Maybe we don't trust our stories. We require applause. We would rather be marvelous than true.

I suppose there's something to being marvelous, actually—something important.

Another aspect of the book I found disconcerting: It's narrated by the brother of a musical genius, and the narrator is both envious of and awestruck by his brother's talent. Yet the narrator's philosphical range and poetic sensibility—his own artistic talent, in short—led me to think, as I read: As if a mind like this could be envious of anyone.

Momentarily envious, perhaps—but not as a way of being in the world.

Anyway, I don't recommend the book as an exemplary novel but as a wonderfully written exposé of the American soul.

It's a shame exposés are dull, once we get the point.

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