The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The most boring story in the world

Posted on: May 25, 2007

I am wilfully engaging in blogger like exaggeration but the story I read really was lame. James Salter’s “Sunday”, which I assume was an excerpt from his first “important” novel A Sport and A Pastime, so described on his Albany U page, was the last story in the Paris Review no. 38 and it almost read (wrote?) me into a coma.

The first line started off well, the second read a bit contrived and everything after that was predictable and corny. He tried to keep one interested with the abrupt switches between first and third person, and sex but neither provoked more than a momentary spike in neural activity. You know what happened? His first line got me excited because it indicated that the prose would be more along the lines of what I was used to in literary fiction, something of a relief after Drexler, Wurlitzer and Jesse Hill Ford (all of whose stories I enjoyed). Then it fell into the kind of boring, unexciting, calculated style that embodies the worst assumptions of lit fic. Contrived, fragmented sentences strung together to achieve a kind of poetic sound. Everything is in hush colours like some boring late 19th C painting. (I’m thinking Turner. Sorry, but I don’t like Turner.) Avoiding any kind of explicit descriptions in an effort to make your readers “work” for it, to give your story a kind of beautiful mystery.

It didn’t work, it didn’t work, it didn’t work. Coincidentally I formed the same impression when I read the first paragraph of Desai’s Booker winner — not the specifics but the same “this is boring portentous lit fic” vibe — and Niall at Torque Control described it in similar terms although he actually read the whole thing. From the first few sentences you can tell they’re just trying too hard, IMO.

Oh and his characters were boring. The girl was a beautiful lifeless receptacle for the hero’s penis and convenient object upon which he could mentally project all of his anxieties, desires, ambitions etc. And even that couldn’t make him interesting. Lame.

Imagine my surprise when I googled Salter and he turned out to be *”the author of some of the most esteemed fiction of the past three decades.” (Is that not the stuffiest phrasing? “esteemed fiction”? Who says that?) The NYT slobbered all over him. Shows you what I know.

The Wikipedia entry on Salter was so on point in describing precisely what I hated about his style that I’m off to read about “Impression as a literary movement”. That’s the title of a Modern Language Journal article written by Beverly Gibbs. Wish me luck.

UPDATE: Oh that’s funny. Apparently Ford Madox Ford has something to do with all of this. Is it the subjectivity in his writing (of The Good Solider)? I can’t think of anything else…and to make sure it isn’t I’ve passed up party invitations to stay in and read. (Lame, yes? It was just a regular BBQ party though, nothing special.)

*Publisher’s Weekly


1 Response to "The most boring story in the world"

I had a very similar reaction to Desai – just didn’t grab me by the throat. I haven’t read any Salter and suspect I’ll stay away now.

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