Wednesday, October 14, 2009

#9: Netherland

I read this book months ago for my year of reading dangerously, and then shit happened. Which is a paltry excuse for not alerting you earlier to the delicate dangers of Joseph O'Neill's critically-acclaimed hymn to dislocation, cricket, and the American dream, but there it is.

The perceived dangers were these:

1) I do not like novels about immigrants in America.
2) I do not like novels written by handsome men.
3) I do not like novels that treat Big Issues.

The actual dangers where these:

1) I do not like being forced to confront my own prejudices.

Netherland is gorgeous. I used the word "hymn" deliberately: O'Neill's book is measured, tuneful, and serious, a full-throated song. Hans, the novel's narrator, is a displaced Dutch financial prognosticator living in New York City. His wife leaves him. He meets a guy who plays cricket. That's basically the sum of the plot, but the writing plumbs every inch and color.

From p. 200 (Hans describing a thunderstorm):

In my last American August one thunderstorm followed another: I can still picture a suddenly green, almost undersea atmosphere, and hailstones hopping like dice on asphalt, and streams criss-crossing Chelsea, and huge photographical flashes visiting my apartment. It's hard to believe, from my Englander's perspective, in those subtropical weeks, when the humid air could be so blurred with reverberated light as to leave me with a mild case of color blindness. Everyone scurried in the shadowed fraction of the city. Few things were more wonderful than hopping into a cold summer cab.

From p. 201 (Hans at a restaurant with his friend Vinay, describing his wife's new squeeze):

"The guy specializes in boiled potatoes and turnips and beetroots," Vinay told me. "Old English vegetable ingredients. Very interesting." He said pompously, "I'd classify him as a cook, not a chef."

No doubt, I thought, he was also an expert in reviving Anglo-Saxon erotic traditions. A sensualist who embodied a classic yet contemporary approach to carnal pleasure.

I told Vinay the score.

"Oh fuck that," he said.

"Yeah," I said.

"Jesus. Martin Casey."

"Yup," I said, feeling brave.

Vinay, excited, said, "The dude's short. He's a fucking dwarf, Hans. You're going to blow him out of the fucking water."

It was good of Vinay to say this, but Vinay, in spite of his own six feet, had a terrible record with women and was, I knew for a fact, a bonehead about anything he couldn't eat or drink.

From me: Read Netherland. Soon.

No comments: