Thursday, November 5, 2015

"The Prize," by Jill Bialosky - Too Much Angst about Too Little

Sometimes I am about to post a less-than-enthusiastic review of a novel, and then question my right to pronounce judgment on a kind of writing that I would never be able to do myself. I write academic articles, books, and conference papers, and I write book reviews, including in these posts. But I don’t have the gift of being able to write fiction. (I wish I did! But I long ago accepted that I do not.) So if someone has produced even a decent effort at a novel or short story, it seems presumptuous of me to criticize it. But then I tell myself that everyone has her or his own role, and the role of the book reviewer or critic or blogger is to provide a sense of a book and its strengths and weaknesses, along with one’s personal response to the book. This is a conflict I have struggled with before, but from time to time I revisit it. This time it is a prologue to saying that I need to critique the novel I just finished, Jill Bialosky’s “The Prize” (Counterpoint, 2015), as it is a rather unsatisfying book. It is set in the art world, and the main character, Edward Darby, is a partner in a leading New York art gallery. The novel does provide a window into some of the workings of that world, which is of interest. But mostly it consists of the ditherings of that character, Edward. He is, perhaps, having a midlife crisis. He questions the meaning of his work, he sulks about his most famous artist’s work and her betrayal of him, he worries about his marriage and his wife, and simultaneously has an affair with another artist, but not without much guilt, much back and forth about whether he should or shouldn’t be having that affair. All of this is very angsty and trite, accompanied by anguished conversations that seem essentially lightweight and predictable, walks through Manhattan in the rain, various sojourns in various European cities, and plenty of time spent in hotel bars drinking and dissecting his feelings. But all of this just doesn’t amount to much, as nothing truly serious seems to be at stake. “The Prize” is reasonably well written, but just doesn’t seem to matter very much. (But I still feel a little nervy being so “judgy” about a reasonably decent novel that I could never write myself….) (Some readers might say it is a little late to be worrying about that, after a fair number of negative or at least less than positive reviews over the almost six years I have been writing this blog….) (I could even be accused of doing a little angsty dithering myself, right here in this post….)
Site Meter