Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comparing two books

I'm not sure to what extent it's fair to compare these two books: These Days Are Ours, by Michelle Haimoff, which I read recently and about which I have mixed feelings, and The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood, which I'm not quite halfway through and which I'm loving.

There are some superficial and thematic similarities. Haimoff writes about recent college grads, while Wood's characters are largely still students. They both deal with privileged classes among whom there's an interloper — a regular, working guy. Both feature several social events. Same time period.

So why is it that I really like the one (Wood) — I think it's literary, I can't think of a better way to spend these cold, grey March days — and I'm so quick to dismiss the other (Haimoff) as chick lit (or something like it)? (And when I apply these labels, have I already made my judgement?)

For starters, it's clear to me that The Bellwether Revivals has a plot. I'm not entirely sure where it's going, but things are happening, and I want to know what happens next.

These Days Are Ours has less plot — a lot of chatting and meeting up, but not much to drive the reader, beyond wondering whether she'll get the job she interviewed for and which guy should she end up with — more an over-arching theme of directionlessness. In one sense, the novel might be said to be clever for its mostly plotless form matching its content.

For another thing, I'd much rather attend one of Wood's dinner parties than Haimoff's. The Bellwhethers (for that is the name of the family of interest) actully talk about ideas, like mind-body dualism. Hailey's crowd talks small talk, about people, clubs, nothing much at all. Come to think of it, they do as much texting as talking, and I think this reflects the depth of their engagement. Haimoff writes about people of influence; Wood writes about people of intelligence.

When I say I prefer Wood's book then, is it because I like the people in it better? Do people in real life talk about mind-body dualism and debate the existence of God at the dinner table? Yes, but how many? Is Haimoff's dinner conversation more realistic?

Is either book an accurate reflection of the society it takes on? Can they both be right? Is this New York (Haimoff) versus London (Wood)? Haimoff's feels like a small novel, about a small character at sea, small perhaps in contrast to New York and 9/11. Wood's novel feels big and important even though the story doesn't go far beyond the circle of friends. Is Haimoff too subtle for me to appreciate?

I wouldn't be comparing these books at all, I don't think, if it weren't for that I'm reading them within a couple weeks of each other.

I can't wait to get back to The Bellwhether Revivals.
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