Thoughts On Completion Of Great Jones Street

Just finished reading Great Jones Street, by Don DeLillo, and I wasn’t very impressed. There’s such good writing in it. He makes description seem easy and exhibits a truly felicitous knack of making phrases. I suppose you could say he puts words together nicely. I suppose I have just said just that. But the story didn’t quite work.

Briefly, it’s about the lead singer (“frontman” is a word they often use, isn’t it?) of a band named Bucky Wunderlick . Bucky leaves the band and retreats to a shabby apartment in New York, on Great Jones Street, where he seeks refuge from the world and ponders what to do next. These ponderings are shared by his girlfriend and they are interrupted at times by connections of his with various schemes which concern, in part, a new kind of narcotic.

That’s probably not a great summary. I don’t want to give anything away. A lot more goes on than that and a lot less, as is the way with books about the interior lives of characters, told in the protagonist’s voice, where we share the world as he perceives it.

I suppose I would say that the writing is as it should be, in that it never falls below the level where a writer of DeLillo’s calibre should be, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of White Noise, Cosmopolis or Underworld. And that’s fine. This exercise – me writing about this, briefly, in my haltingly vague way, as I still struggle to say anything interesting about writing I have read – is as much about my reaction to the book as it is about the book itself. It’s OK for a writer to have produced something below his or her usual standard. We’re not talking about utter garbage here – far from it – but this is just an example of a fine author who didn’t quite nail it on this one occasion. Not everything a writer writes can be a masterpiece. This is logical if you think about it. The point is that it is also perfectly acceptable for the reader to admit this and talk about it.

Of course this is all about individual taste. Some readers might have read this book and enjoyed it much more than I did. Some readers might not have become a bit confused by all the music industry types with their range of nefarious designs. Some readers might not have thought that the second half was weaker than the first and that when a suitable, logical and fitting resolution was found by the author that it was a bit of a laboured journey to drag the novel to that conclusion. And that would be fine too. It’s all opinion.

I wonder if I could say that I didn’t care about the characters. This isn’t a comment I think I’ve ever made, primarily because I’m not sure I understand it. I may not have even written down correctly what people say: the wording could be wrong (apologies, if so). I’ve read books where the characters were all arseholes, but the story was told well, and it was compelling enough to persevere with because enough unexpected things had happened that it was unclear what would happen next. So, for me likeability is almost irrelevant. Perhaps it’s interest: an interesting person, although perhaps evil or otherwise unpleasant, or a boring person, who is interestingly drawn by the author, can constitute a character with enough intrigue or appeal for me to keep going. Perhaps we aren’t talking about likeability or interest. Perhaps what people who say that they don’t care about the characters mean is that they don’t believe in them, that they find no good reason to keep reading because the people in the story are unrealistic. If that is the case then this is a real criticism and I can understand fully how important it is to get something like this right. But in that case, I think I would just say that I didn’t like it because it wasn’t very good, that it wasn’t very well written.

It’s worth thinking more about what people mean when they make critical statements. Sometimes they could be saying something because it seems churlish to just say I hated it. Sometimes they could be trying to sound more intelligent or widely read than they are. Perhaps I fall into the show-off trap sometimes myself. Like I said: more thought on this would be worthwhile.

Published in: on December 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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