Condescension: It Could Have Been Better

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Have you read Francesca Lia Block’s Love in the Time of Global Warming?

It’s not a terrible book – but, as far as Block books go, it’s not an excellent book, either. Instead, it falls somewhere within that middling, okay-ish range. I’m not necessarily sorry that I read it, but I’m disappointed, because this book could have been so much better.

Potential

The one glaring error that pervades this novel is that it draws its parallels to The Odyssey too explicitly. Block includes excerpts from the epic poem to show that the poem parallels many of the things that are occurring to her characters. However, to anyone who has actually read The Odyssey, this explicit mapping is completely unnecessary.

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Turning the novel into a machination as boring as this machine designed to bore large cylinders

In fact, I would go a bit further than the actual Odyssey passages were unnecessary and boring, and say that they were potentially a bit lazy and inherently condescending. Inserting passages into one of Block’s already generally fairly short novels takes a lot of the writing itself out of her hands. I mean, sure, maybe a lot of us insert large blocks of quotations into our NaNovels, but the furious insistence to get 50,000 words written in 30 days is meant for a first draft, not a published work. I generally don’t mind the brief length of Block’s novels, so long as the story feels complete (which this novel, being the first of two books, is not), and Block’s lyrical writing is at the level I have come to expect from reading her work (which, frankly, this novel only sometimes achieves).

woman-smiling
You expected me to write a whole book, by myself? How plebeian.

And while I am staunchly against plagiarism, (which, frankly, since this novel does not explicitly cite the version of the Odyssey that it repeatedly quotes, and the Odyssey was originally written down in ancient Greek, which this novel is not, this novel seems to have the potentiality of intellectual property infringement), there is also no need to explicitly mention within your text that you are alluding to Classical mythology. Most literature used to allude to Classical mythology, without explicitly saying: “And, as sayeth Virgil, Cano virumque arma…” Classical mythology is public canon, as well as mythology, which means that it is a living, breathing story, meant to be adapted and changed, etc. So by explicitly calling out her references, not just once or twice, but once the first reference has been made, nearly every chapter, Block is being redundant and condescending. If you have read The Odyssey and get her references, good job. You are well read and/or have a good memory. If you have not read The Odyssey, you really should, but you should also be able to read an adaptation of the story and follow it and enjoy it even if you don’t get every reference being made. It is good for readers to be challenged – not everything needs to be spelled out, particularly since a reader should be able to make his or her own conclusions about the book. There is not necessarily one “correct” way to read a story – a writer tells the tale, but the reader makes it his or her own by bringing his or her own unique experiences to the text and essentially translating it through the lens by which the reader interprets the world around him or her. By spelling out: This is what I’m doing, Block is making it harder to be an active reader.

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Make me and other readers think!

Having said that, there are other things with this novel that Block did quite well, including taking a text that traditionally focuses on men and manly things and giving it a feminist and then a humanist slant. I have read some reviews that condemn the author for writing “stereotypes,” but when you’re re-telling an epic poem that literally referred to people by a single phrase, having slightly one- or two-dimensional characters is actually an improvement. If you enjoy mythology, part of what you like about it is likely its’ simplicity. It isn’t really fair to judge a novel’s characters by such different standards when you were excited to learn that it was a mythological re-telling in the first place. Part of the appeals of myths is the simplicity, including the simplicity of its’ characters, and Block’s characters in this novel are not, by any means, static.

Block’s storyline also feels a bit meandering, a bit unwieldy, like her world does not entirely make sense. But The Odyssey is a world with Scylla and Charybdis, with gods and unpredictability. I am not as hard on Block for her writing because of this background. I think the real issue is that Block writes in a way that is more realistic and less lyrical than much of her other work, and this manner of writing only points out how odd and surrealistic the world she is trying to create is in contrast to the world that her readers are situated in that much more clearly. I do not feel that Block edited this book enough, to be honest. Her writing does not sing.

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Sing to me, my angel of music!

Those are my rambling thoughts on this novel. Have you read it? What did you think? Agree or disagree – I would love to hear your thoughts!

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