As readers of this blog may know, I don't really do reviews. Not here, at least. Still, every once in a while I feel the need to discuss a book (or an author) at length and the rambling can occasionally resemble reviews (rather in the same way that a casual mention might be considered a recommendation). I can only hope these rambles and rants will be entertaining and interesting.
The topic is Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed. The reason for the discussion: Jessica of Both Eyes Book Blog and my own bewildered gut. You see, in the case of Ferris, I'm rather in the minority. The simple story is that I liked End and I wasn't thrilled about The Unnamed. The problems began when I realized just about everybody was thrilled with The Unnamed, and a lot of folk weren't so keen on End.
Ferris mentioned in an interview several months ago (hat tip, The Elegant Variation) that "Some of the bad reviews have been perplexing in their lack of sophistication". He complained (for lack of a better word) that critics could not rise about a childish, simplistic mentality and view of the book, essentially saying that they were reading it wrong. The critical review quote included in the interview just seems weird to me (and perhaps unjustly harsh), but it's still an odd, somewhat arrogant thing for an author to say. When I finished The Unnamed, I came to the conclusion that there are a few levels on which the book could be read, namely a simplistic literal level and a few deeper metaphorical ones. I also came to the conclusion that neither method of reading the book is particularly satisfying. One is overly simplified, the other overly analytical and dense. Am I reading without sophistication, or am I the clever odd duck who realizes the truth?
I know many book bloggers (and many more I can't link to) were impressed with this book. Even I enjoyed it, somewhat. I appreciated the metaphors and the depth, I liked the way I got into the characters and the difficult story, and I enjoyed most of the writing, although there were some moments of awkwardness. And I liked the subtlety of the layers, as if Ferris is teasing his readers, hoping they'll pick up on other levels (unless I'm totally off base and am inventing depth where there is none). But at the end of the day, it had too many issues - the fact that the characters never felt quite as close to home as I would have hoped (aside from main character Tim), the way the metaphors/allegories didn't sit well with reality, and the way, as a simplified story, it seemed to lack punch for the whole of the book.
Did I let myself get caught up in the book while I read it? Yes. Do I understand why people like it? Yes. Do I understand why people love it? No. Ferris wrote a good second book, but it's not spectacular. It's special, it jumps out at readers, but it did not succeed entirely at the depth Ferris so hoped for. I cannot compare it to his debut either, which I liked a great deal more, because the two books are different (bonus points for Ferris). The disappointment doesn't come from expecting another comedic-bordering-serious novel, but rather from the less than great execution of a serious Novel-with-a-capital-N.