Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Finished Siri Hustvedt’s beautiful novel, The Sorrows of an American. Loved it. Will write about it properly before the week is up. Here are just some early thoughts.

This is the kind of book I love stumbling upon when I’m knee deep in my own fiction because it just asks for a second and a third and a fourth read…to take a further look at the skeleton of the text, and the layers that cover it. So many things I admire. Namely, the way Hustvedt’s dialogue accepts difficult conversations, enables the characters to say complicated, thoughtful things. Nadine Gordimer does this as well, allows her characters to engage in long-winded, meditative conversations about difficult topics.

Also, I enjoyed the authenticity of the narrative voice. I mean this in a very particular way. What I liked was that the narrator gave us his thoughts without too much framed narration. This can be risky because it can alienate the reader, asking the reader to do a lot more work than he or she might be willing to do. But Hustvedt kept a good balance. There was a definite narrative structure in place, but the narrator allowed his thoughts to wander at times, mixing previous memories and experiences. Something mentioned on page 3 might make an appearance, without any real explanatory triggers, on page 156. Things like that. It gave the novel a nice texture.

Finally, there was a lot, and I mean a whole lot, of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theories in the book. I’m still wading through my reaction to that element of the novel.


 Before I forget…the small press I’d like to highlight today is Hawthorne Books. This wonderful little press is based in Portland, OR and has some fantastic titles. I’m at a loss to choose just one…Seaview by Toby Olson, Leaving Brooklyn by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Little Green by Loretta Stinson…take a look at their catalog and you’ll see what I mean.

7 Responses to “Hustvedt thoughts and Hawthorne Books”

  1. litlove

    I’m just catching up on your posts and have moments ago read about you putting this book down. So I am most intrigued as to the turnaround it has evoked. I own a copy, and am looking forward to reading it myself!

  2. Guilherme

    “when I’m knee deep in my own fiction”

    Not clear on that…you mean the stuff you write yourself?

  3. verbivore

    Lilian – I think dialogue is a very difficult thing to master, and I was particularly intrigued to see how Hustvedt managed hers, especially because she did allow her characters to actually speak, to say emotional, difficult things. And I felt it worked. I was quite impressed.

    Litlove – I know, I was so upset when I realized I was reading a male narrator and I had created a female one in my mind. It’s an interesting bias, I think, and I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has it. But the book was quite good, I really enjoyed it. Despite my initial frustration.

    Guilherme – Yes, my own fiction. I don’t write about it much here, because I like to write about my reading, but I do write fiction.

  4. Stefanie

    Your description of the Hustvedt book is intriguing. I am looking forward to hearing more about it. And I am loving your small press highlights!

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