Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Really Don't Believe It

I know a man who will not, and never has, read fiction  because "it's not true."  Well, it's "fiction", duh!  I have not retorted -- but it's on the tip of my tongue --  that the scientific papers he reads and the opinion/review articles (as in New York Review of Books) he reads often are not "true" either.  Scientific papers are disputed all the time and many are highly misleading, (which is to say, far from"true"). Reviews and essays are opinions, they cannot be taken as "true" beyond their author's expertise and beliefs. 

Any lover of literature knows that the best fiction shows truth in a non-didactic way, often in a very entertaining way, and just as often involving our emotions and taking us into truths we recognize but would not have been likely to see otherwise.  I'm pondering the two movies I wrote about in the previous post, one I felt was very untrue and one very true (although it showed a truth of human nature, i.e., Fletcher's sadism, I have not seen and hope never to see in reality). Yesterday two more untruths in fiction bothered me.  I saw the weekly foreign film, Today's Special, full of unlikely characters and events. Frequently the flow of scenes reeked of Screenwriting 101; each scene added on, often exaggerated, to build a story to it's entirely expected end. Story and characters were so depthless, it was utterly untrue. The woman who introduced the film remarked that it was "forgettable" -- indeed.

In the evening I finished reading Bel Canto by Anne Patchett which I would not have bought from the Goodwill store if it didn't have a printed on stamp "Winner Pen/Faulkner Award).  How bad could it be? Not quite as bad as either of the films. The premise: a terrorist kidnapping at a party in the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country where, after four months of standoff, both terrorists and guests act as if they're at a vacation resort, people fall in love, alliances are formed, the terrorist leaders are totally indolent. The story devolves and the author's ability to imagine either the leader's deep frustration or effect of boredom on the prisoners becomes bearable only because after the midpoint of the book she fouses on love stories.  A waste of several evenings of reading time. And the final short chapter is a disaster of ridicluousness.

All the above are opinions, of course, which doesn't make them any more "true" than the fictions I don't like -- except, for me they are factual because they illustrate what I seek in fiction and how disappointed I am when I find that mediocrity has been give an important prize.


barbara judge said...

Books can be worthwhile to read. However it seems to me that those that are highly recommended can be very mediocre. I try to gather several recommendations together before I buy or borrow a book so that I won't be disappointed in the material. -- barbara

June Calender said...

Thanks very intelligent of you, Barbara. I'm more spur of the moment and I can be sadly disappointed, as the post shows. And then often even not very good books that are based on plot have me trapped in the old what-happens-next state.

Kass said...

"The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms." Muriel Rukeyser

That's one of my favorite quotes.

I also read Bel Canto and couldn't believe how many people LOVED it. It was rumored that Renée Fleming had signed on to do the movie, but that was several years ago. Perhaps she reread the book and opted out.

June Calender said...

Thanks, Kass. that's a great quote. I think Renee Flemming is probably the only opera star who would be appropriate for the role. I'm glad it hasn't become a movie.