30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
open novel? open question,
This review is from: Open City: A Novel (Hardcover)
There is much to admire about the elegant yet restless writing of *Open City*. I was content to meander about Morningside Heights with the narrator, a flaneur who conveys NY spaces very well. However, conveying characters -- people -- is a but trickier for the novelist. His discrete observations never quite come together in a novelistic way. I don't require plot from books, but there does need to be some development, some realization or even question to hang your hat on, even if it is only in the realm of philosophy. Perhaps this might have been a more successful book had it been a collection of essays, since the writer seems keen to show what he knows about what it means to be human in the 21st century (and indeed, to show what he knows about all kinds of things that don't feed into some basic trajectory). The closest we get to a structure that might lead us somewhere is an accusation in the end (I won't spoil here). The narrator does absolutely nothing with this important claim: doesn't deny, embrace, mourn it, although he presents himself as a sensitive thinker.
This might have something to do with a troubling relationship with women; however much the narrator strives to show how sophisticated he is on the issues of race and religion, he is utterly antiquated and dull on the subject of women. We are told that this one is not physically beautiful, this one is -- and somehow this is supposed to shed light on something. Bleh. The narrator can only really see women as people when they are ancient somehow, long devoid of sexuality (but of course even then he needs to talk about how she must have been a great beauty.... why? why? Not so open there, Julius (or Cole)). This is important because we are carefully prepped to not like the female character who accuses the main character... how? by delineating her unattractiveness -- both her personality but naturally her looks are rather repellent (to Julius): small eyes, purple blotches... well, of course we will let this man off the hook, given such a tableau.
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Initial post: Feb 9, 2012 5:30:36 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 9, 2012 5:39:41 AM PST
I suppose you'd prefer the narrator to be dishonest and not express his male sexuality by noticing how women look? Would that satisfy you? And no, race and religion don't have the same kind of visceral response as sexuality, which, for better and for worse, is affected by hormones. A man might be extraordinarily open-minded about race and religion because they are fundamentally open-ended responses to reality. They are ideologically driven and open to the persuasive powers of reason. But to expect the same response to how a man perceives women--yes, we notice how they look first, but most of us don't stop there--is naive and ultimately rancorous.
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