I've tried a couple lately but couldn't get into them. For example, the highly regarded Perdido Street Station, a fantasy-steampunk rendition of a Hieronymus Bosch painting (that's how it struck me), proved too damned dense--dense with characters and concepts, places and plot points; dense with grotesquerie; dense with words. It's 722 pages' worth of dense. And, yikes, the prose! I felt I was eating my way through a fifty-pound fruit cake. What made it even more trying was that I couldn't connect with the characters, all of whom had surprisingly little humanity about them. They felt distant and exotic. They felt cold to my mind's touch.
When I view the book objectively, I see a marvel of erudition and imagination. How can I not admire this writer's skill? But when I view the book subjectively, I see . . . a fifty-pound fruit cake. Laced with mescaline. So I put the book down. Maybe I just haven't been in the right mood for this kind of read but will be in another few months. Maybe it's something I'll appreciate more in the winter.
Then, along comes Normal Miguel. In the mail. I got a book in the mail! But I don't quite know how to evaluate this novel. On the one hand, it quickly became a comfort read for me. I've been doling it out to myself, turning to it every day, if only to enjoy a few pages, just because it makes me feel good.
I love the simple lyricism of the prose. (It creaks and stumbles a bit now and then, but no matter. So fresh!) I love the characters. What PSS lacked in humanity, this book has in abundance. And the sense of place is so strong, it rises off the page with a full complement of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. I could feel the cold heaviness of those drenching rains.
This author is clearly in love with his subject matter.
However, herein lies the novel's greatest weakness. It's very discursive. Point of view is unpredictably everywhere, like the movements of a palm full of jumping beans. Not only does POV shift abruptly, it's scattered among major and minor characters alike. I get cranky when the story's flow is suddenly disrupted by paragraphs or pages of background detail about a secondary character. Invariably these passages are colorful, but . . . I'm not sure they're necessary. Are these characters significant-enough players to warrant so many digressions? Sometimes the characters' motivations mystify me too, and a few thematic strings are fiddled on a bit too ham-handedly.
Still--and this is highly unusual for me--I keep looking forward to my daily read. The novel has so much charm and so much heart, I've been forgiving of its flaws. I can't remember when that's ever happened in my reading experience. Any other piece of fiction with any of these no-nos would've had me gnashing my teeth.
So if you'd like a truly refreshing read that not only brings Mexican culture to life but weaves a sweet gay love story, give this book a try. I don't think you'll regret it.