Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Floating Life by Tad Crawford

Summary (courtesy of goodreads):  A Floating Life will delight lovers of Kafka, Murakami, and the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It immediately draws the reader into a fantastic world of multiple journeys that make the hallucinatory feel real. A nameless narrator awakens to the muddle of middle age, no longer certain who or what he is. He finds himself at a party talking to a woman he doesn't know who proves to be his wife. Soon separated but still living in the same apartment, he is threatened by a litigious dachshund and saddled with a stubborn case of erectile dysfunction in a world that seems held together by increasingly mercurial laws and elusive boundaries. His relationship deepens with an elderly Dutch model maker named Pecheur whose miniature boats are erratically offered for sale in a hard-to-find shop called The Floating World. Enlivened by Pecheur's dream to tame the destructive forces of nature, the narrator begins to find his bearings. With quiet humor and wisdom, A Floating Life charts its course among images that surprise and disorient, such as a job interview in a steam room with a one-eyed, seven-foot chef, a midnight intrusion of bears, the narrator's breast feeding of the baby he has birthed, and an encounter with a goddess in a maze of caves beneath a volcanic island. A Floating Life is a rollicking, unforgettable, and inventive journey--and it is also a source of insight, solace, and inspiration.

And here's what I thought:  When I was contacted by the author about a review, I was intrigued because the book sounded like nothing else I've read.   I went and looked for more information before I agreed to a review, and found that Booklist had a review which said, " The elements of the picaresque and magic realism, blended with quirky, surreal humor, should appeal to readers with a taste for the literary and the strange. "   Well, that sounds intriguing, right?  So I gave it a try.

And I've now revised my review .... because I had promised it back in December, and had written it up and had it sitting in draft .... and completely forgot about actually posting it.  This is why I'm now just scheduling reviews and not keeping them as drafts.   I went back and re-read what I had written, and have just tightened it up a bit, as I found my original review was a bit rambling.  So this is what I thought about this book:

Strange.  Odd. Unpredictable. Compelling.  And what's the word for when you have a strange dream that you wake from, wondering if it had bits of the real in it, and unsure of what just happened?  I don't know a word for that.  It's difficult to articulate the reaction I had to reading this book.  As you can see from the summary, the book has a nameless narrator who is in the middle of his life, going from situation to situation.   There is a surrealism that runs through this book that reminded me of what I like about Jonathan Carroll's books -- that sense of feeling like you should know more about where you are, and who you're talking to, and what's going on, even as you're in the midst of something.   I found I would start the book and stop, and then pick it up a day or two later --- it wasn't something that felt comfortable reading at a non-stop pace.  What I mean is, I would periodically have to stop and just think about what I had just read, almost as if I had to center myself, so I could get a grasp on what was happening.

I think this is one of strengths of this book, even though at times it made me feel a bit off-balance.  I sometimes have really realistic dreams, ones where I wake up and have an uneasy feeling because I'm not if I've been dreaming, or have been awake the whole time.  Sometimes, this book gave me the same uneasiness because I felt like I couldn't get a good hold on it.   I think it's just me .... maybe this book is over my head, and that's why I didn't have a clear connection to it.

I never did really feel a connection to the narrator, but maybe that's what's supposed to happen; maybe it's all an exercise in exploration, and stretching the boundaries of what you expect from a book.   I never felt quite comfortable reading it, even while there were parts that I really enjoyed.  I think if you're a reader who enjoys Kafka (and I do not, particularly), this book would really appeal to you.   I found it an unusual book, but one which I'm not sure I'd come back to right away.  I'm not giving the book a rating, as I really have no idea how I'd do it ---- it gets a great rating for the writing, which is superb.  However, it didn't really resonate with me enough for me to say I loved it.

There are many reviews on Goodreads which are written much better than mine, so if this book sounds intriguing to you, I'd suggest checking out what those readers had to say.

First lines (from one of the chapters):   "I wrote him a letter," the strange woman said to me.  She looked in her late thirties, about my age, slender and smallish.  When she spoke, she emphasized every word and her gray eyes took on a steely gleam behind her horn-rimmed glasses.  "I told him exactly what I thought of him.  No edits.  No prisoners.  Nothing left out."    I had no idea who she was or who she was talking about.  In the large room around us a storm of people moved turbulently, back and forth, a lot of them dressed up in tuxes and glittering gowns.  They carried presents, and I had the feeling I must be at a birthday party.  But for whom?


Mark R said...

I read your review of this book with interest - your description appealed to me. I don't read enough new literature (which is why I force myself to go to a book club, where others make the choices) - because I am so often disappointed.
And I would have gone for this book, but for the first lines which you mentioned: "...her gray eyes took on a steely gleam behind her horn-rimmed glasses..." The number of cliches in this short line made my heart sink.
Am I being over-critical?

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