31 July 2008

Disobey and learn

I wandered the aisles of the Northfield Public Library looking for books to travel with. I saw Jane Hamilton's name and recalled Jane Smiley's 1000 Acres. Jane Smiley. Jane Hamilton. Sometimes I'm a confused old guy.

I really liked Smiley's book. I figured I could read Hamilton's Disobedience while sitting by a mountain river while distracted by high cliffs and peaks. And so I checked it out. And I read it in the Montana mountains just outside of Yellowstone National Park. See Old Faithful by clicking here.

It wasn't what I expected having read Thousand Acres and Moo by Smiley. The book was intriguing. I slogged through it because I kept expecting to learn something about love, life, families, differing perspectives, or something. Lacking lessons, I kept expecting something to happen. (I knew this book was more realistic than the murder mysteries I read so often.)

I suspect this is an English major's book. Maybe I should contact a member of Garrison Keillor's Professional Organization of English Majors (POEM) for help.

Someone could point out important metaphors and themes. She or he could help me see the parallels between Beth Shaw's marriage and affair and her son Henry's first love and his close platonic friendship with Karen.

Maybe a POEM member could help me write a paper about how all the characters were incomplete human beings whose deficiencies were compensated for by other characters. Or maybe I could critique the role of Karen, Henry's friend, whose perspective was a corrective lens to Henry's myopic view of the world around him.

But that's not why I read books.

Here's the deal: forty-something Jane Hamilton channels 20-something narrator Henry Shaw's memories. Henry is still trying to channel his mother by rereading her e-mails about a love affair.

Henry's mother, Beth, gets to speak through her e-mails to her friend Jane (aha, Jane!) and her lover Richard. It would have been interesting if author Jane had channeled Beth Shaw in a few chapters.

Henry's little sister is crazy enough to deserve her own book that might be better than this one.

Henry's father is a real cypher, although Hamilton does a marvelous job of describing the life of a high school history teacher. She must know a couple of them.

Henry's love, Lily, is also a cypher. About all we learn about her is that she's smarter than 99% of us and that she's hot in bed.

Hamilton drops interesting hints about Henry's friend Karen, who has the potential to be the most interesting character in Disobedience. Her role as commentator on Henry's narrative has the potential to be as important as Henry or Beth's version of events. But, alas, Hamilton chooses to stick almost exclusively with Henry's soliloquy.

The book really becomes, "What did Henry learn about love and life during his last 18 months as an intimate member of the Shaw nuclear family?" I think it's clear what Hamilton thought she knew about love and life at age 40-something. But it's not clear at all that she channeled Henry completely enough to find out what he learned. Then again, what do we expect of 20-something guys' understandings of their 18-year-old selves and the world they inhabited? Even smart, perceptive guys?

So what I want now are Henry's story at age 40-something, Karen's book, Beth's book, little sister Elvira's book, maybe father Kevin's book, and maybe, just maybe books about Henry's lover Lily and Beth's lover Richard.

Yes, but those books would have to teach me more or be more event-filled than this one to get me through them. If not, I'd just spend my time listening to the glacier run off and geyser overflow running in the river next to me or meditating on the high mountain meadows in front of me.

Did you read Disobedience? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought about it.

No comments: