Fugitive PiecesFugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

it seems to be something of a goodreads sin to give this book any fewer than four stars cats. and were i rating it solely on the beauty of its language, it would be an easy five-star cat book. but as a novel, it missed the mark for me somewhat, so it is really just a high-three for me.

i know – blasphemer!

the poetry-as-novel thing can be a truly wonderful beast, or it can leave the reader wanting more – more story, more impact, more cohesion. reading this book made me long to re-read Justine, which is an example of this style done perfectly. durrell’s enviable mastery of language turns alexandria into a paradisiacal blend of the natural, the erotic, and the cerebral, but he never sacrifices story despite his emphasis on lyrical language.

fugitive pieces, while it all but accidentally tells a story, remains that – pieces; offhand musings that sparkle beautifully but fail to make connections that would bind this into a solid and emphatic novel.

the strongest parts of this book, to me, are when she is describing the women in the two narrator’s lives: each has two life-altering lovers; one failed, and one lasting, and the four of them are prismatic in their allure and their vivid realization on the page. they remind me of the women in jonathan carroll, or leonard cohen: perfectly self-sustaining and generous, selfish and regretful.

but another, and bigger, problem is that at one point in the book, there is a shift in narrators, and yet the voice is exactly the same as what has come before; the same fragmented, desperately lovely poetic musings, doling out the story in brief paragraphs. it is frustrating that there is no change in tone with the change in character. it is all well and good to have a personal style, and it is difficult to cut portions that are pleasing to you-as-writer, but sometimes you have to sacrifice beauty for craft.

having gotten all the negative out of the way, i did enjoy reading this book. there are shockingly gorgeous passages, many of which are recounting the horrors of the holocaust, and so are even more potently beautiful for the darkness that undercuts the words. it’s a lot of this:

Nothing is sudden. Not an explosion – planned, timed, wired carefully – not the burst door. Just as the earth invisibly prepares its cataclysms, so history is the gradual instant.

Gradually Athos and I learned each other’s languages. A little of my Yiddish, with smatterings of mutual Polish. His Greek and English. We took new words into our mouths like foreign foods; suspicious, acquired tastes.
Athos didn’t want me to forget. He made me review my Hebrew alphabet. He said the same thing every day: “It is your future you are remembering.” He taught me the ornate Greek script, like the twisting twin of Hebrew. Both Hebrew and Greek, Athos liked to say, contain the ancient loneliness of ruins, “like a flute heard distantly down a hillside of olives, or a voice calling to a boat from shore.”

How many centuries before the spirit forgets the body? How long will we feel our phantom skin buckling over rockface, our pulse in magnetic lines of force? How many years pass before the difference between murder and death erodes?
Grief requires time. If a chip of stone radiates its self, its breath, so long, how stubborn might be the soul. If sound waves carry on to infinity, where are their screams now? I imagine them somewhere in the galaxy, moving forever towards the psalms.

so. lovely passages of filler-bits that please the mind and the ear, but they just lack that driving force that is supposed to sustain a narrative. and while there are echoes and pockets of repetition throughout, there is never a sense of solidifying these observations into a unifying statement. it is mysticism without religion.

and i am probably being overly-critical here, because i did enjoy it, and it does tell a story, despite my grumblings, i just think that it had more potential than it ultimately delivered, and it sacrificed substance for style.

hiding now.

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