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Lost in the Stacks

I read widely and compulsively and my fancies are ever changing. My love of reading, however, is no mere fancy. 

Currently reading

The Stress of Her Regard
Tim Powers
Progress: 480/960 minutes

Family: Family and Borghesia, Two Novellas

Family: Family and Borghesia, Two Novellas - Natalia Ginzburg Family is the book that Jonathan Franzen probably wishes he was writing when he was writing Freedom. This is my first Ginzburg novel (or rather, novellas - there are two)and I would like to refrain from making general statements about the rest of her oeuvre, but will anyway: Ginzburg's project, it seems, is in describing the personal and spiritual isolation of modern life and the dissolution of the family unit as people find other alternatives out of desire or necessity.

Ginzburg's prose A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose while reading Family. He makes a point in his manifesto about the tyranny of the sentence in modern writing; how the best compliment a critic can give an author nowadays is that she/he can write a beautiful sentence. This led me to think about the point that Myers and others have made that this tyranny of the beautiful sentence has crushed the novel and story as art forms. As a result, they have lost their bounded-ness of late and become leaky globular things whose meaning is hard to pin down . . . (and now I am reminded of this brilliant
Maud Newton piece in the New York Times on this very phenomenon).

I counted one beautiful sentence, in "Borghesia". I didn't set out to count it but it was so obvious, surrounded as it was by its homely siblings, that I couldn't help but notice it. It wasn't even that beautiful - it just stood out by comparison. Not much else jumped out at me while reading these two novellas about the Roman middle-class until the end of each when it occured to me that what I had just finished was something with form and symmetry - things that the contemporary novel, with its focus on the beautiful sentence, has completely forgotten about. For all of the disorder in these characters lives their stories unfold in ordered ways.

Family is the story of two former lovers who, once their relationship is over, find in each other the stability they lacked while they were in love and takes the form of a circle, starting and finishing with a trip to the movies. Borghesia, perhaps the lesser of the two in the scope of its exploration of petit bourgeois existence, but my favorite all the same, tells the story of a woman, Ilaria, and her family, who are constantly bitten by small tragedies. The story itself is like the path of a drafter's compass in the way that it pivots around a central focus of Ilaria's adoption of a succession of cats. It is wonderful.

To finish, give me form and symmetry and stories that are beautiful in their wholeness and save your bloody beautiful sentences for a t-shirt.