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2004-07-28 10:37 PM
It's easy to be glib about other people's books, even when you're trying to be complimentary.
I can't be glib about this one, so the right words are hard to find. I'm stuck with both the desire to be honest and the fear that, in the maelstrom of lit-bloggers compulsively outbonning each other's mots, lack of glibness will be misread as hedged praise.
Because brilliant, insightful, masterful are the words that sell. But to use them and stop there is like calling calling Beethoven tuneful. It's not enough. It's true, but it misses the point.
The words I'm afraid to use, the honest ones, are these: Anguish, devastation, honesty, cynicism, love. ABSENT FRIENDS was not easy for me to read. Not the writing, which was Rozan's usual insightful, brilliant, etc., with more understanding of the variety of human nature packed into any random sentence than most writers display in a chapter; but the inevitability with which it compelled me to accept an unromantic view of the value of truth. I'd rather believe otherwise. Reading ABSENT FRIENDS, I can't.
The story borrows some of its engine from the crime novel, but that's like saying THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV is a murder mystery. Again, true, but again, it misses the point. Some critics will probably say it uses an investigation as its structural framework, but that's not true either. One reporter's investigation into the death of another is only one of many threads all being pulled into a single noose, and it's that tightening that serves as story movement.
Some will say that it tells several stories in several time periods, call it "nonlinear," or say it's confusing. Also not true. There is just one story, and its revelations--sudden switchbacks in our understanding of a group of Staten Islanders who've known each other since childhood--propel it more inexorably toward its conclusion than any beat in a Hero's Journey. That those scenes occur in various time periods, from various points of view, is irrelevant. The story is given to us in exactly the order we need.
A friend asked me, recently, whether I liked a certain movie. In fact, I wasn't sure whether liked was the right word to use. I'm not sure I can like something that puts me on edge, refuses to reassure me, and leaves me wishing I didn't believe it.
But I did believe ABSENT FRIENDS. Whether because of authorial skill or authorial conviction--and they're both here--I believe this view of truth, honor, futility, heroism, karma. I don't want to, but I do. At least for today, at least for several hours now, since I closed the book.
I know what I'm supposed to say about a good book: Brilliant, trenchant, highly recommended...
I don't know what I'm supposed to say about a great one.
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