Water, Water, Everywhere

I just finished Nikolski and I can barely breathe. What a glorious way to drown.

It's everything they said it would be. I can't even begin to think I could do this book justice in reviewing it. Just read it.

Wild West

I had some outside responses linking to my last post, which I wasn't really expecting.

I'm always surprised when Steven W. Beattie links me, because his is the sort of writing I aspire to. I don't know if I'd ever want to review books professionally, but to be able to talk about them on a level slightly more academic than "durrr, book good" would make me happy. While Beattie didn't agree with me, there was a good discussion over there.

I found another write up on the offending op-ed (via Bookslut), and hoped the author of that blog would come over here to see what I had to say. Of course, putting that link in the comments directs all sorts to my post, and one of those sorts had less kind things to say*. In the comments section of that post, he said something like "I don't need to be right, I just want people to think." Which, in his responses to my comment, doesn't really seem to be the case. Anyway, according to his comment to me, I invented the concept of male privilege, which I guess makes me one of the greatest feminist thinkers of our time. SWB, you were right about me all along! Ha!

Really, this is all just musing on the nature of the internet. Two writers who disagreed with my view point linked me, and I find it odd. Beattie, well, we do have a back and forth. Stranger "Academic" Man? As I said to him in his blog, I think he used my write-up because it was easy to pick apart. I don't spend too much time on my blog posts: I don't get paid for this, have a regular readership of about five people, and write here for fun. I'm not in academia, or the business of writing, producing, or reviewing books.

I'm not saying I don't stand behind what I put up here. Of course I do. And it's public, it's for everyone to see, and people will take what they want from it. However, people also take the internet really, really seriously, when most of the time, it's not. I have a free site on Blogger because I was too lazy to deal with the layout issues of Typepad. I update a couple times a month. This blog is not a serious discussion of the state of literature, or feminism, or the weather. It's simply a "brain dump." It was the place I put all the stuff I didn't want to bore my friends with. Still is.

I do have to think, too, that there must have been something to that Orange Prize post, to get random people on the internet quoting it. Perhaps it wasn't so poorly written as to be ignored completely?

I'm not new to the internet by any means. I tooled around on Usenet, where I learned hard lessons about the permanence of words online, and their ability to misquoted, misconstrued, and willfully misunderstood. I know human nature is such that if someone is unwilling to see your viewpoint, there's nothing you can do (and years on the internet taught me that there's little use arguing it). And yet... and yet it's still so unsettling to see my words chopped up on the page of a stranger**. To see them miss the point completely, in their quest to denounce the fiendish, feminist foe. How the heck did I become an example? And of what?

*Bloggers live and die from hits. Why do you think I'm not giving him any?
**And, granted, all blogs use others' words as fodder. Mine is no exception.

Orange Prize Brings Out the Neanderthals... Again

Every year when the Orange Prize lists are announced (long or short), someone steps up and says that the women-only prize is "sexist" and not needed. Every. Damn. Year. Boring! Yet rage-inducing! Such ambivalence!

This year, they've trotted out my beloved A.S. Byatt to do the dirty work (it's okay, Antonia, I still love you). Bah. I'm not going to get into all the arguments (wooops, I actually do, further down), since about three people read this blog, but there's no such thing as a reverse -ism, friends, and until women are equal players in the world, things like the Orange Prize are, yes, still needed. Consider that the most recent winner of the PEN/Faulkner award, Kate Christensen, is one of only a handful of women to do so.

And the opinion pieces come out of the woodwork. Here's another one, from Telegraph, that I'm purposely not linking to (for several reasons, the hateful reader comments being but one):
Women are predominant, in terms of numbers and power, in most of the major publishing houses and agencies. They sell most of the books, into a market that largely comprises women readers.

First, I'm not sure how it is in the U.K. but in Canada, something like 80% of the workforce in publishing is female, while only 3% of the executive is.* So, tell me, where is the real power? Secondly, "they" sell most of the books do they? You mean most of the people in the pink ghetto of retail are women? Well yes, that's true. Or do you mean female authors sell more books? If that's the case, then you're going to have to be more clear in your writing, and back that up with some stats. I'd love to see them, because I'm definitely interested.

The author of this silly piece seems to think that women are a "dominant" group, like "whites" (wrong). He continually makes these sorts of comparisons between gender and race based oppressions. While -isms do work together to create layers of oppression, comparing oppressions (sexism and racism in this article), is very, very tricky business (see Hilary v Obama), and really shouldn't be done. Ever.

Then, he casts every woman he comes in contact with as unable to defend their position with logic; their only tactic is to "hit him on the head," literally or with "verbal abuse." He was called, and I quote, "a BUM." How he must suffer! Personally, if I was faced with these tired old arguments against women-only institutions, I'd be prone to violence too. Not because I'm unable to engage in "mature debate," but rather because my opponent has set the bar so low with their reactionary drivel, a hit on the head is the only logical response.

And P.S.: the patriarchy is not "a trick that men played on women for thousands of years." Leave it to a man to take millennia of world-wide, systematic oppression, abuse, and subjugation and minimize it down to something like putting a whoppie cushion on your chair. That, my friends, is what we call privilege. Additionally, with the implication that women fell for this "trick" for so long, the writer once again gets to call womankind stupid.

But yeah, we're all like totally equal and powerful and shit. *headdesk*

My ex-pat friend Axel did mention in the comments a while back, how right-wing the Telegraph is, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised to see this sort of thing published there.

I've gotten into arguments mature debates at Bookninja about this sort of thing, and it's unhelpful that there aren't (that I know of) statistics on how many books are published by men and women each year (for the casual observer, it seems pretty even in the fiction realm), how big the advances are for men vs women, that sort of thing. This is a casual observation, but I have noticed The New York Times often gets really, really excited over quirky, clev-ah, first time male novelists, giving them pages and pages and pages of press**, yet women don't get the same treatment. There have been studies that indicate that women are the bulk of the fiction readers, but nothing so much on the writing front. I'd be interested to know, at any rate.

The Orange Prize long list is here.
I've read:
Jennifer Egan The Keep
Anne Enright The Gathering
Heather O'Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Based on my small list, I'm pulling for Egan. The Keep was one of the most transporting things I've ever read.

*This is based on my memory of a Quill and Quire industry survey I read in 2005. I doubt things are 50/50 as of this writing. Call me a pessimist.
**I'm sorry, please allow me to indulge my incredibly shallow side. Look at that photo!! If I saw that guy in a coffee shop, my first thought would be "douchebag."
Sarah Seltzer, in the latest issue of Bitch, addresses the anti-feminist bias at The NYT, that I mentioned in this post. Unsurprisingly, Seltzer writes about it far better than I did. Well worth a look.

Visiting Lives

Early-to-mid 20th century British literature is a particular favourite of mine (The Rainbow is in my Top 10 of books). Thus, I've been meaning to read Brideshead Revisited for a long, long time now. I read this article earlier in the month, and was reminded, once again, of this glaring gap in my repertoire. So on Friday I went book shopping, picking up the latest issue of Bitch upon walking in the door, then heading over to the fiction section. Found Brideshead, then wandered a bit. Browsed the biographies, picked up, then rejected the latest Hardy bio. Looked up and saw a biography of the Mitford sisters.

The letters of the Mitfords have recently been compiled and published, and if I remember correctly The Globe and Mail reviewer was rhapsodic about the family* (the review is behind the stupid, outdated Globe paywall); I was intrigued. Since finances are a bit tight, I had to choose only one book. I've read nothing but fiction all year, so I decided to put Brideshead away, thinking that the Mitford story would at least be a change of pace. Of course, turns out two of the elder Mitford sisters were pals with Evelyn Waugh in their early years, and Brideshead is based on parts of their circle. So the next book up, should definitely be Brideshead. It's fate! Unless, of course, something in my library queue comes in.

Biographies can be really painful for me to read. They're not a genre I usually enjoy, though a well-written one is an excellent thing, so I continue trying them. The Sisters is one of those excellent biographies. I'm about 200 pages in having been reading only for a couple days. One might make the argument that it's the subject that can make or break a bio, and the Mitfords are very interesting subjects indeed. However, I once read an Ann Sexton bio and it took me almost a month of slogging to complete. Ann Sexton is beyond fascinating to me, but there was just something about the writing that didn't grab me. On the other hand, Rough Magic, a Sylvia Plath biography, was an excellent and intriguing read, and I actually dislike Plath for the most part. So for me, a good bio isn't really about the subject, it's about the skill of the writer. Mary S Lovell, author of The Sisters, is skilled at keeping things moving, and not getting too bogged down in the fine details. She's also fantastic at introducing a large cast of secondary -- and even tertiary -- characters, without losing the reader in complex family and social trees.

I likely won't go on and read the letters, however. Published letters hurt my brain more than biographies ever could. I've tried. I've read the letters of authors I love, and I never get more than 100 or so pages in, before I lose all interest.

Mitford sisters: from left, Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity, Pamela 1935
Image from Telegraph.co.uk.

Guardian review of The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters
NYT review of The Sisters.

*There was also a blogger writing about the Mitfords recently, but I read so many blogs these days, I forget which one it was.

I Love You, Katha Pollitt (Reviews of Reviews pt 3)

Katha Pollitt responds to the flagrant use of controversy to get page views*, Charlotte Allen's Washington Post piece on how women are just silly bints after all. Of course, the rebuttal was also in the Post, so they're just going to get more page views of out this. However, it's also right that they should publish the rebuttal, and kudos to them for printing a piece that calls the editors out for having published "Women vs. Women" in the first place.

I also just finished reading Learning to Drive this week, so my Pollitt love is out in full force. As I mentioned, the book got a pretty bad review in the New York Times. Now that I've read the book, I can form my rebuttal. The NYT reviewer's problem, it seems, is that Pollitt took a break from writing "brilliant commentary on welfare, abortion, surrogate motherhood, Iraq, gay marriage and health care" and got personal. The reviewer, of course, missing -- or ignoring -- the basic second-wave feminist tenant "the personal is the political" (and Pollitt even talks about this in her book). The personal essays in Learning to Drive are sometimes deeply affecting, especially the essay on her mother's alcoholism (if you only read one thing from this collection, that is the one). These are micro pieces about macro topics: population boom, gentrification, and gender relations are all treated here, with honesty, humour, and compassion. When Pollitt brings her personal "dirty laundry" to the table, the reader can take such large issues and relate them to their own life. Books like Learning to Drive are important books, whether or not you agree with the politics, because one can see how the political can -- and will -- affect them personally.

I see that the author of this review is also the author of something called The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir. Not that there's anything wrong with erotic memoirs, and it's possible that Ms. Bentley is a political person herself. I just feel like she missed the (easily understood) point of a noted political journalist turning the focus onto herself, and perhaps it's due to her own ideas of what a personal book should consist of. That said, I think it's hugely hypocritical to take Pollitt to task for "wav[ing] her dirty laundry" when you've written an erotic memoir. Does the laundry get any dirtier? Odd person.

Interesting that the reviewer of Learning to Drive was female, that the reviewer of The Terror Dream was female**, and that this blog post started off talking about woman-on-woman misogyny. I'm not so naive as to think that all women need to agree with each other, or bond in some feminist utopia of sisterhood. People have diverging opinions; that will never change. Much as I wish it were so, the whole world is not going to be liberal, socialist, and pro-equality. It does, however, sadden me to see women consciously engaging in this sort of behavior. For a female reviewer to use such terms as "shrill" or "vagina dentata intellectuals" (what?!), or for a woman to write about how all women are just silly dim creatures, really pisses me off. We are all free to disagree with each other, but it feels like such a step backwards to be using such patriarchal devices on ourselves, instead of fighting for better treatment. I know, it's wishful thinking, but I'll keep wishing.

*And yes, I know I'm just contributing to it by linking here
**I don't know why it didn't occur to me to just google her at the time

Time Suck Recomendations

Almost everyone I know has been talking about -- and linking to -- Garfield Minus Garfield. What's just as interesting as the project itself, are people's reactions to it. For some it's just hilarious, while to others, it's poignant and sad. I fall into the latter group, but I suppose I took the author's write up (artist statement?) (too much?) to heart:
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor [sic] disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness [sic] and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.

I was just introduced to Stuff White People Like today, and I can kiss my productivity goodbye.
White women all consider John Stewart to be the most perfect man on the planet. This is not a debate, it is law.
It's like he knows me!

Finally, Spacing Toronto is a fantastic read. For someone like me who's fascinated by architecture, design, and urban planning, yet doesn't have any real clue about what goes into it, Spacing Toronto is an excellent resource. I'm sure it appeals to those with more of a background in such things as well. Yesterday, their post on the Moorish Revival style gave me answers to the questions that always float in my head when I see this style, and wonder where the heck it came from. Now I can say with authority "Oh, yes, that's Moorish Revival," like I know something about anything. I'll fool them all! Of course, I'll probably wind up saying that about buildings that aren't. I'm awesome that way.

All the above are also now in the "Links! Links! Links!" sidebar.

Two of the three links are CanCon, so the CRTC should be happy.

Thematic: Star Wars Edition

I have a massive case of the February "Go Fuck Off and Die Already"s.
I want to eat an entire chocolate cake, and I don't even like cake.
I have spent entirely too much time on Youtube today.
So I bring you a theme post.
The image to the left there, is something I made years ago, learning how to use Photoshop. I have no idea why I thought it would be funny to make Ackbar wash socks, and even less idea why it still cracks me up.

Star Wars According to a Three-Year Old

Eddie Izzard: Death Star Cafeteria

Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager

Bonus! Chad Vader sings "Chocolate Rain"

Best of Bootie 2007: Galvanize the Empire (Click to play with Quicktime, or right click and save as).

Han Solo Desk.

Think Geek used to have bookends that were Han and Greedo aiming at each other, but they don't seem to have them anymore. SAD! I always coveted those greatly.

Okay, I'm done. Back to your business, people.

The Deck

I finished The Devil, the Lovers, and Me: My Life in Tarot a couple weeks back. I couldn't help comparing it to Eat, Pray, Love, with all the new age-y reflections on life, and how one can go about improving one's future.

Kimberlee Auerbach is more down-to-earth than Elizabeth Gilbert, and thus, easier to identify with. The stories in her book weren't funded by a large publisher advance (though she likely got one), and she's not wealthy in the book (even though she comes from, and probably had more money than I do, it doesn't come across that way). Auerbach doesn't go around the world to find herself, she does it in the New York apartment of a tarot card reader*. Her family is messed up, like most families are, and she's not afraid to talk about it. She's not fabulous, she's an everywoman. And she's deeply funny, and incredibly thoughtful. All this makes Auerbach far more likeable than Gilbert, and makes the book a fast, interesting, and ultimately joyful read.

And yet... Gilbert is the superior writer. Reading The Devil, the Lovers, and Me is like having coffee with a great friend. Eat, Pray, Love transports the reader to exotic locales, where possibilities are open and endless. This, of course, is why Eat, Pray, Love is so successful, both in its writing and in its sales. Gilbert knows how to manipulate the reader, to force you to root for her, to join her on the crazy voyage. Gilbert's character isn't someone I'd easily get behind, in fiction or in life, but it speaks to the excellence of her writing that I did, in each and every page. I fear The Devil... won't have the same success, because it's more mundane.

I have no complaints about Auerbach's writing; I did enjoy the book thoroughly. I think she's got a lot of talent, and further books -- I do hope for more -- should hone that talent into something more magical. That thing that Gilbert has in spades.

* * *

Bookslut makes me laugh:
My favorite of [Penguin’s Great Loves] series is The Eaten Heart: Unlikely Tales of Love by Boccaccio. Boccaccio was an influence on Chaucer. That tells you how smart I feel when I drop Boccaccio’s name in casual conversation. It goes a little like this:
Stranger: Hey, lady, you’re parked in two spots! You suck!
Me: I’m reading Boccaccio! He was an influence on Chaucer!
Stranger: Move your damn car.

Callie Miller at Counterbalance has a post on a chair and ottoman, that also hold your books**. I guess it's that kind of week.

**Auerbach admits in her end papers that the tarot reader, and reading, in her book is a composite of tarot readers and readings she's had over the years. No surprise, since it's not likely you'd recount your entire life story over the course of one evening. Makes for an easy transition to screenplay though (oh, I'm such a cynic).

Random Nostalgia

Spacing Montreal has a post on legal postering spaces in Montreal, and a comparison with Calgary's spaces. Interesting stuff, but the part that caught me was the last photo: it's my old C-Train station!

To class, and back home. Downtown. Crossing those tracks to go to the Safeway, or Second Cup, or on my way home from hanging out with that odd little Goth guy at 3 a.m. That photo sent a little shockwave of homesickness through me. Everyday I spend in Toronto -- and every sad trip back to a place that's turning more into everything I ran from -- fills the holes that my past carved in my chest, when I left. Yet there are still things, like random photos of a place that was part of my everyday life, found while link-jumping, that tear those wounds open again. Smaller every time. Some day, it won't hurt at all.

Just Some Cool Stuff

I've always dreamt of living in a space with 12, 15-foot bookshelves, with a ladder on wheels to roll between them. There's a loft in Kensington Market that has such a thing (sorry for peeking in your windows all the time, lofters!). Though this just might replace the classic library in my dreams. It's a bookshelf staircase*! I think my heart stopped.

The Book Inscriptions Project is another one of those things I really wish I'd thought of (like Seen Reading). I think I've already mentioned how much I love used books for the notes I'll sometimes find in the margins. I'll write notes back, often, to the mystery author. I'll wonder if they used the book for a course, or were simply the sort of reader that has to respond to the text in the text. The Book Inscription Project also engages with these mystery writers, through the notes they leave for the recipient of the book. It's addictive reading, for me at any rate.
From the "about" section:
We collect personal messages written in ink (or pen or marker or crayon or grape jelly) inside books.
Pictures count. So do poems. So do notes on paper found in a book. The more heartfelt the better. [...] For whatever reason, I happened to open the book and saw the message from Mark to Joey.
Something about that note, handwritten by an unknown to an unknown of whose whereabouts,
gender and relationship I was unaware, struck me as both tragic and powerful. Since then I’ve been searching for more inscriptions and, after poring through thousands of books at garage sales, libraries and book sales, I now have a large and ever-growing collection.

Books That Make You Dumb correlates the favorite books of respondents, and their SAT scores**. Here's how they did it:
1[...]download, using Facebook, the ten most frequent "favorite books" at every college (manually -- as not to violate Facebook's ToS). These ten books are indicative of the overall intellectual milieu of that college.
2. Download the average SAT/ACT score (from CollegeBoard) for students attending every college.
3. Presto! We have a correlation between books and dumbitude (smartitude too)!

Books <=> Colleges <=> Average SAT Scores

4. Plot the average SAT of each book, discarding books with too few samples to have a reliable average.
5. Post the results on your website, pondering what the Internet will think of it.

My favourite book doesn't even make the list. I'm not sure what that says about me, so I'll assume it means my genius is off the charts. Heh.

*via Bookninja
**So, yes, it's based on U.S. info.

The Queen Street Fire

My life is often one big love letter to Toronto, so you can imagine I'm pretty down today.

CBC: Toronto blaze guts row of historic buildings

Toronto Star: Fire on Queen West

CityNews:Six-Alarm Blaze Tears Through Stretch Of Queen West

Interesting that a city block, containing heritage buildings, burns down, when that block is right next door to a new -- though not yet built -- condo development, housing yuppies and big box stores. The news is saying "meth lab." I'm more cynical.

This wasn't the toniest block in the world, but it's where I got my nose pierced, bought back issues of Bitch, ate after-bar pizza... It's where the antique store catered to the bizarre and silly, and where Duke's Cycle operated for 90 odd years. And now? It'll probably look like the American Apparel building down the street. And the new residents will have a lot to say about "that element," that makes Queen Street what it is.

Other coverage.

: The first photo on here almost made me cry.
Blog TO:Lots of photos here.

For the non-residents:
Queen West is/was freak central. It's where me and many of my friends have spent far too much time drinking, dancing, shopping, eating, wandering, etc. Though it's becoming more gentrified and homogenized all the time. American Apparel, the Gap, H&M etc have all moved in, and now the condos are coming. Queen West is also designated a historic district, and as such, many of the buildings can't be tampered with by developers, or so they say.

Bonus Content: Best Evar

I've had a few issues with the commenters, and content at Bookninja, but this is the Best Book Ninja Thread, EVAR.

Best Soup EVAR:
Potato, leek, and bacon. Made by BoyMan. You're jealous. Yes, you.

Realism Rears Its Ugly Head

One of my nebulous New Year's resolutions was to blog more. Clearly, that didn't happen. Not that I haven't been reading. Here's a bit of a follow-up to my last post, though it's not nearly as well thought-out. To be honest, A Line of Beauty deserves a lot more space than I give it here, and I probably could have done far, far more with it. However, I'm clearly a lazy blogger, and I'm sure my audience of six isn't waiting with baited breath for the next revolution in critical thinking to show up on this page.

* * *

A friend of mine*, who just happens to be a PhD candidate in Victorian Literature, and I were discussing my last post over email, and he pointed out that the Victorians had a "fetish for Realism." The reason Hardy was singled out, and critisized for his contrivances, was that they were more in the Romantic tradition. Which brings me nicely to The Line of Beauty, a book that also deals with class considerations in heavily class-conscious Thatcherite Britain. Nick, our protagonist, comes from middle-class stock, well outside London. He went onto Oxford and met the sons of the upper class, to whom he'd be attached for several years after. While his class gaffs sometimes set him apart (example: thinking a maid is the lady of the house), and his status as The Lodger (or one who "fills out the numbers at dinner") is never far from the surface, the outsider status really revolves around his homosexuality.

He begins the novel living in the ritzy house of a prominent MP, made possible by the friendship of the MP's son, Toby. Later on, he begins a long-term love affair with an heir to a grocery-chain fortune, Wani, whom he also knew from school. While Nick's sexuality is an open secret, Wani maintains a fiancé, until his AIDs infection progresses so far as so be undeniable.

Line of Beauty takes the opposite tack from Run in dealing with class
mingling, as it lacks Romantic tricks, and sticks firmly in realism. My Vic Lit pal mentioned that we still carry some of that Victorian sensibility with us, and many people feel that "capital 'L' Literature" must still be realistic to be lauded. He also points out that even now, there's still a bit of
lingering misogyny toward women as authors. Realism, as an aesthetic, has its roots in the 18th century when male authors made a case for the literary value of their work over the romances written by women; the novel, as a form, was posited in opposition to feminine, un-literary writing.

It's definitely something for me to chew over, regarding my thesis on class-consciousness in both the contemporary and Victorian novel, but I think there's space for both schools of writing to work within my theoretical framework.

Or I'll just pretend all this never happened.

Look over there!
*shifty eye*

The Line of Beauty won the 2004 Booker Prize.

* * *

I'm editing a manuscript for a friend of mine at the moment**. I forgot how much fun it is to really get into an edit. I'm not an editor, but like 90% of the people who graduated with an English degree, I always wanted to be. It's combination substantive/copy edit, and my brain is working harder than it's had to in a really, really long time. For which I'm very grateful. I'm sure she thinks I'm doing her a favour, but it really is the other way around.

*Hopefully he won't mind me quoting him. He's a smart cookie; I value his opinion, and appreciate his help.
**Like most people, I'm better at noticing others' mistakes.

Reviews of Reviews pt 2

When I was in University I took a Victorian novel class. In that class we were assigned the Broadview* edition of Hardy's Tess of the d’Urbervilles**, which made mention of critics' struggles with Hardy's reliance on coincidence. To quote Walter Allen (as quoted in that edition):
"[Modern critics] have found fault with [Hardy's] extensive exploration of coincidence. [...] [The character's] creator cannot convince us that the Immanent Will, and not Thomas Hardy, is responsible."

Having just recently finished Jane Eyre I took issue with this critique. Shouldn't Brontë have been maligned for the same reasons? Surely the madwoman in the attic, the brother of said woman who shows up to ruin Jane and Rochester's wedding, the discovery of cousins, and the windfall of cash through Uncle John strains the reader's suspension of disbelief far more than the story Tess? I wrote a big ol' undergrad paper on the comparison of the two, coming down hard on Brontë, and giving a big thumbs up to Hardy.

I thought of these things as I read Steven W. Beattie's review of Run some months ago. Beattie's main criticism of Run is also the strain on credulity.
The degree of sympathy a reader will have for Patchett's novel will depend upon the degree to which that reader is able to accept the essentially contrived nature of the novel's plot. Although there are plenty of coincidences in Run, any one of these in itself would not be enough to damn the novel; coincidence is a part of life, after all, why should it not also be a part of fiction? But the sheer number of implausibilities begin to add up after a while, and, in aggregate, they can't help but take a toll on a reader's willingness to suspend disbelief.

While I agree that Patchett employs many "coincidences and contrivances" to propel her narrative, I didn't find myself questioning those tactics, nor did they seem too overt. Like in Tess, I just went with it, without questioning, and it worked for me. Unlike my experience reading Jane Eyre, were I kept talking back to the book, saying "Oh come on!" or uttering guttural sounds like "ugh," Run was smooth sailing, uninterrupted by jarring disconnects from reality (yes, even when Patchett employs a ghost to tell part of the story).

Taking these three books together, I did find some interesting similarities.
Run is set up like a lot of Victorian novels, in that there's a class-mingling -- or class-conflict -- at the centre of the book, which is the push for the narrative. Tess was a farm girl, raped by a member of the local gentry. Governess Jane falls for the rich Rochester. Tip and Teddy, in Run, are the adopted black sons of the former mayor of Boston, who were given up by a poor, single-mother. Perhaps in Victorian times, when the classes really didn't mingle that much (save for the home owner dealing with "the help"), there needed to be a large narrative coincidence to bring the economically disparate classes together. Run too, needs to challenge the reader with coincidence, in order to have the classes co-mingle. The premise of the novel, that the white mayor of an American city would adopt two black children, is (sadly) incredible to begin with. If the reader is to accept that, then what follows shouldn't be taken as surprising, or tough to believe. Rather, Run is a novel in which anything can happen, because the strangest thing already has. And it's a bit startling to realise that even in the 21st century, a novel about class, and class-systems, would have to use the same "tricks" the Victorians did, to make the narrative move forward. Which leads me to believe that we haven't come very far at all: the class-war exists in North America now as much as it did in Victorian England.

Beattie again:
And when a ghost appears to a key character in order to reveal yet another, supposedly ironic character relationship, all pretense to plausibility disintegrates[...]

If you take this in the context of Run being a kind of Victorian novel, the ghost actually makes perfect sense, since ghosts are a pretty standard Victorian/Gothic element. One need only think of Dickens' A Christmas Carol to see how ghosts tell the stories that the "mortals" in a book can't.

I enjoyed Run on first read, and have to thank Beattie for making me look a lot closer at a novel that I first just thought of as a good read. Now, I look at Run as a revival of a Victorian style of writing, that modern critics do indeed have a difficult time accepting. However, when it's done well, as it is with Tess and Run, the style has a lot to say about how classes, even now, simply stick to their own. A novel that has classes co-existing on such an intimate level strains the readers' suspension of disbelief, not because such novels rely too heavily on coincidence (though they do employ it), but because such things are still so very uncommon. The author creates implausible situations and solutions throughout to highlight the fact that the narrative situation is so odd in the first place.

Only in a strange world, where the normal does not apply, can the abnormal happen.

*I went to Uni in Calgary, where Broadview is based. As such, a lot of the textbooks we used were Broadview editions, and several of the editors of such books were profs at the U of C. I can't say enough good things about this publisher. They are beautiful editions of books, that consider the people using them: ie the margins are wide enough to write in, the paper is solid enough to write on, and the footnotes are at the end of the page not the end of the book. All good things for students! I highly recommend picking up a Broadview edition of a classic, if you're in the market for one. You won't be sorry.
**For the record, when asked, I always cite Tess as my "favourite" book.