Monday, April 5, 2010

Oh Lazarus

I recently finished,and enjoyed, the Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon.

Friends know that my tastes are eclectic, reading is no different. Even though I am a wide-ranging reader, I don't think I would have picked up this book had it not been a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. I mentioned previously that the center of a writer's life is reading. So I read, a lot. I read pulp, I read Pulitzer winners, I read Newberry award winners, I read genre fiction by the box full(except romance- I tried...I just couldn't do it). I try to read things I enjoy, and things that will instruct (both in general terms and with regards to the craft of writing)and LP hit both marks.

The book is a story of a modern day Bosnian immigrant like the author who is conducting research for a book (about a Jewish immigrant killed in Chicago in 1908) and while tracing the path of the Jewish immigrant his companion (also a Bosnian, but one who had lived through the siege of Sarajevo) relays his story of the war. So really 3 stories in one.

Overall I thought it was well done and worth a read. But there were many instances where I experienced problems with the text that some of my critiquers have pointed out from time to time in my work.

First, the novice writer is told that the writer should be invisible to the reader. By that I mean that when you notice the writing you are knocked out of the story. Hemon's prose was overall very good, but he often used descriptive language (in particular adjectives) that seemed a bit incongruously and awkwardly wedged into the text. Maybe it's just me, but these instances brought me out of the story to wonder if these were really the right words to use.

Next problem for me was the reuse of vivid imagery. In particular 'vines of hair up the back of his neck'. First time you use it it's cool. Second time it is not only not cool it's awkward. Didn't happen often, but enough that I said to myself, 'Self, that's what that critter was talking about'.

Recycling is great, but not if it's really obvious in your story. The author recycled the same names, the same descriptions of people etc. I think the point was that there are echoes in history, but when it's really apparent that the author is doing it I think of it as 'cutesy' and I didn't really like it.

The last thing that tripped me up was not giving me enough information up front to have a clear image of the characters. If your character wears glasses and these will be important later then you need to tell me about them up front, otherwise I'll ask the blank pages 'where did those glasses come from?'.

It may sound as if I'm nitpicking, and I am. But I did enjoy the book, and would recommend it, even though it was a tad too literary (and postmodernist even) and just sort of...


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