There are books I read with excitement and passionate engagement, and others I read politely and passively. I just finished one of each.
‘Tortilla Curtain’ by T. C. Boyle is a brilliant novel. I read it less than a year ago and recently picked it up and read it again. Set in the LA area, it’s the story of two young couples, one affluent and upwardly mobile, the other illegal, impoverished, and Mexican, living outdoors and outside all the privilege that drew them across the border. The story of how their lives touch upon and change each other is compelling, a tragicomedy of depth and significance, with love and hate, fire and flood, hope and despair, and even a Christmas tableau of sorts.
‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwan is a small novel (200 pages) which I read with the hope that it would live up to its cover hype as a masterpiece, and because I admired ‘Atonement.’ It’s the story of a couple on their honeymoon night at a Dorset beach hotel in 1962 and how, to quote the author, “the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.” It did not engage me, perhaps (but who am I to say?) because the writer was not fully engaged. Perhaps he did not care enough. I certainly did not care enough. Perhaps there is no capturing and entangling the reader unless the writer is himself completely captured by and entangled with his theme and his characters.
Writers can fake it, but the reader always catches him out.