Turns out I'm safe. Several other reviewers were not so lucky -- she has some pretty corrosive things to say about their prose and their approaches to the book. But maybe she didn't read mine.
In any case, her essay provides a somewhat insidery look at the reviewing game, worth reading if you're a reviewer because the critiques of the critics make you ask, "Do I do that?" But it's also worth reading if you're just a reader of reviews, because of what she has to say about the state of reviewing today. (It ain't good.) Not to criticize the critique of criticism -- which would be to commit metametacriticism, I guess -- but I found some of the essay a bit waffling and inconclusive. But these are inconclusive times.
Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my own review of Divisadero, which appeared in the Mercury News.
By Michael Ondaatje
Knopf, 273 pp., $25
Divisadero is one of those
“Divisadero” is really something like two novellas bound together by some slender narrative threads and images. (A blue table plays a role in both stories.) And just as you do on the eponymous street, you reach the climax of one story only to be plunged suddenly into the other.
The first story has to do with three young people raised by a man on a farm in
So Anna, Claire and Coop, unrelated by blood, grew up together. And when Anna was 16 the novelistically inevitable happened: She and Coop became lovers. When their father learned of it, he beat Coop senseless and drove off with Anna – “as if distance would dilute whatever existed between Coop and me,” she tells us in one of the sections she narrates. But somewhere south of
The years pass. Coop becomes a professional gambler, Claire a researcher in the
And there that story hangs as we plunge into the life of
Ondaatje is one of the most romantic of contemporary “literary” novelists, and his flights of passion, even in his Booker prize-winning “The English Patient,” turn some readers off. Coop and Rafael are the kind of Byronic bad-boy loners who make romance readers’ hearts go a-flutter, and Ondaatje even resorts to the soapiest of psychological phenomena: a case of amnesia. Realists will also niggle that no team of paramedics is going to leave a man who’s been beaten unconscious to be looked after by a non-professional. In these days of high liability insurance premiums, they’d haul him in for at least a CAT scan.
Moreover, readers who insist on fictional closure had best stay away from “Divisadero.” Anna, Claire and Coop are left suspended up there on that summit. “Divisadero” is a book for a reader who can go with its flow, who is mindful of small details, who relishes its author’s almost D.H. Lawrencian attentiveness to nature, who hears its sonata-like entwining of themes, and who’s happy to reflect upon and reread a novel rather than shelve it and move along to the next. For this is a novel by a poet – Ondaatje has published at least 13 volumes of verse – who’s more fascinated by the texture of life at given moments, and the way those moments can be captured in words, than he is at tracing lives from beginning through middle through end.
It’s also probably the best