Friday, April 23, 2010


It's the yearly migration from South to North. A generous fellow 'snow
bird' friend sends me off with "Solar" - 9 CD's, 11.1/2 hours. I try to
protest. Since the written word is the altar at which I worship, I am
very finicky about what I read. I will glance at many a new book, but
refuse to read for the sake of keeping up, or because I have nothing
else to do, which is never. My friend leaves the Audio on my porch.

First day of my 22 hour drive: I insert the first CD of "Solar." It's
the story of a Nobel-price-winning physicist. I grew up among such
persons, there were times when they shared my living space, but their
minds were forever far away. So, listening to tale of such a one, of
course I'm hooked. I am fascinated by the ease with which Ian McEwan's
creates mental labyrinths that lure his reader to explore the hardest
theoretical argument for a lay person to follow; translating complex
science for the consumption of the non-scientific mind. His protagonist,
Michael Beard, goes so far as to get funding for the creation of a
fictional power station, complete with switch, for him to throw, that
would alter energy consumption from polluting to clean.

However, it is during explorations of the personal inner world of
Michael Beard - his agile, problem-solving, work-obsessed mind with the
underlying character of a louse - that I feel most acutely the happy
play of the writer behind the tale. Here his male fantasy reaches
unprecedented heights, as his protagonist - a fat, bald, stingy guy not
only has sex aplenty, but is loved by every female, young and riper,
with whom he crawls into bed, marital or long-term affair. I furthermore
did not come across any dead zones, tempting me to switch to local news.
I cursed the Jersey Turnpike where my mind had to turn to survival in
bumper-to-bumper traffic instead of listening and savoring the exploits,
both mental and physical, of the horny Nobel-prize winning physicist.

I did feel something was missing. But then, in almost every novel,
something is missing. I was curious how other readers felt. Upon my
arrival on the weekend there it was: Front-page - The New York Times
Book Review: Human Orbits, by Walter Kirn:

"According to the perverse aesthetic of artistic guilty pleasure,
certain books and movies are so bad – so crudely conceived, despicably
motivated and atrociously executed – that they're actually rather good.
'Solar,' the new novel by Ian McEwan, is just the opposite: a book so
good – so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and
skillfully brought off – that it's actually quite bad. Instead of being
awful yet absorbing, it's impeccable yet numbing, achieving the sort of
superbly wrought inertia of a Romanesque cathedral. There's so little
wrong with it that there's nothing particularly right about it, either.
It's impressive to behold but something of a virtuous pain to read."

In other words the reviewer, Walter Kim, pans it. And, once again, I am
struck at how personal the enjoyment and identification with any art
form has been and still is. Of course a review is always someone's
personal opinion, no more. I personally have been often disappointed
when, after reading good reviews, I bought the book, only to find it
painfully mediocre. So reader – beware!

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