As our family prepared for a week of vacation in Maine, I deliberated over which novel to bring along. I had hoped to luck into used copies from Maine's literary habitués (particularly Richard Russo and Stephen King) but, alas, geography-specific fiction was not in my cards. Since the plan was to drive through northern New York, which I considered John Gardner Country (even if we would be missing Batavia by a wide sweep), I meditated on his titles for a few minutes before deciding against it. Eventually I settled on my old, previously attempted copy of Rick Moody's The Diviners.
I haven't a clue what made me think this go-round would be any more successful than my previous attempts. Twice before I had returned the book to its spot on the shelf, always for the usual reason: what Moody had hoped would be challenging, I read as self-indulgent and distracting. But then we all know story-tellers who beguile their listeners with those very traits — the uncle who laughs hardest at his own joke — so maybe now was the moment for me to share in the laughter.
Turns out it was. I thought the book was a hoot. I was in a satisfied state of mind when I finished, which stayed with me for the next few weeks.
Given my yin-yang experience of the novel, I doubt I could motivate others to read it. The least persuasive aspect of the novel is its central premise: a malleable story about generations of water-dowsers that inspires everyone who hears about it to put their previous lives on hold so they can to get it into production. So much ink and air was expelled to give this concept life, but since none of it struck me as either funny or moving, it instead came off as lame. Still, the characters that got whipped into a froth over it were lovable mutts. I was glad I'd kept the book around.
There are a few dozen other titles with similar potential, parked on dusty bookshelves in different corners of the house. I live in the hope I'll eventually experience a similar awakening unique to each. Odds are they already occupy space in Richard Brautigan's Bookstore (link).
Getting back to Stephen King for a moment (who, I suspect, had some admiration for Brautigan): Sam Sacks really takes the boots to King, not just for the prose, but for the pose. I don't have a dog in this fight (so far as I know) — I loved this book when I was a kid, and thought these two provided worthy moments for kids and adults — but I have been struck by King's surliness toward critics and prize awarders, and even his own publishers and readers. Dude: you're richer than God, everyone who reads English has read at least one of your books, you have a wife who loves you and children who show up at Thanksgiving — content yourself, o mortal!