Saturday, June 21, 2014

Groff on Ferris on the Indescribable

Tidying up around the house, I found a copy of the May 18, 2014 New York Times Book Review, open to page 21. There, novelist Lauren Groff reviews, "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour," the third novel by Joshua Ferris.

Photograph by Beowulf Sheehan

In her review, Groff quotes a passage
"Baseball is the slow creation of something beautiful. It is the almost boringly paced accumulation of what seems slight or incidental into an opera of bracing suspense. The game will threaten never to end, until suddenly it forces you to marvel at how it came to be where it is and to wonder at how far it might go. It’s the drowsy metamorphosis of the dull into the indescribable."
That is marvelous, although baseball games have a variety of rhythms and watching them unfold is a great deal of the charm. Still, the statement captures beautifully some of the wonder without the "self-regard ... of the George Will school of condescending baseball writing."

Groff goes on,
"...this paragraph appears to be the kind of blueprint novelists sometimes slyly plant in their books to illuminate the project of the work at hand. It is valuable as a yardstick against which we might measure the book’s achievements."
Wielding her yardstick, she finds "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour" unsatisfying, worn down by a lack of narrative momentum that mirrors the protagonist's depression.

Closing her observations on this note, Groff dampened my interest in the book. The entire review reads as, 'Ferris has an "astonishing ability to spin gold from ordinary air" but the first two books were better.'

But, entropy aside, why didn't the book review section make it to the recycling bin? Every once in a while I would pick it up and re-read the quote about baseball. Seven people before me are waiting for a copy at the local library.

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