Saturday, February 2, 2013

Three Strong Women, part two

It only seems fair that after posting about Three Strong Women's opening story, I should also post about the following novella. Attentive readers of this blog will notice the wide time-lapse between my last post mentioning the book and this one - indeed, it took me significantly longer to read the second story in the collection than the first.

The obvious reason - that the second story is fifty pages longer - is really not the main factor in why this took quite so long to read (and no, a busy life is not an excuse). The truth is that this second story is simply not as good. At least, it didn't get good until past the halfway mark, when suddenly my reading pace shot up from ten pages a week to fifty pages in one afternoon.

I saw a reader mention in some review (I unfortunately can't remember where) that the second story is not even about a "strong woman", but rather about a weak man. This is a pretty apt description. If Marie Ndiaye's collection was intended to showcase strong women, the central novella does a pretty bad job of it. The strong woman in question would be Fanta, but unlike the previous story's Norah, Fanta is nowhere near being the protagonist of the story. That honor goes, instead, to her husband, Rudy, who is perhaps one of the most miserable and down-in-the-dumps characters I've ever encountered. Fanta is instead viewed through Rudy's eyes, giving us what should be a one-sided impression (though, to credit Ndiaye's writing, Fanta feels surprisingly real).

Rudy is the heart of the second story, and truthfully, he is also what drags it down. His passive anger and general meh-ness throughout the first half of the story is powerful and relevant to the impressive culmination, but it goes on for too long. Here, Ndiaye's tendency towards questioning, one-sentence paragraphs grows a bit tedious. Rudy's thoughts repeat and loop in what is a very sharp description of a troubled mind, but this is not exactly enjoyable or smooth reading. The story doesn't really hit its stride until Rudy's outlook begins to change (and the tone of the story changes accordingly).

I've only just started the third story, but already its flow is significantly better than Rudy's story ever was. It'll be interesting to see how it fits into the collection thematically. I have some thoughts on this idea of the "strong women" so far, but I think I'll wait until after the final novella to see how it all plays out.

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