The April 18th reading at Goucher College will be at 7 p.m., not 7:30 p.m. For those who like readings, this will probably be a little longer than the short sample I’ve been doing on tour. I might read the first chapter, or I might piece together a series of short scenes. (For some reason, it’s tempting to read about Kevin Infante’s wake-up call in Chapter 2, given that it takes place just a few miles down the road from Goucher, on a different college campus.)
Now for the recommendation: I finally finished THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD. A fast reader — perhaps a too-fast reader — I consider it notable when a book forces me to slow down and consider every word. (And try to grasp the rules of snooker along the way.) I think this book is a remarkable achievement, one that truly delivers on its premise. It tells, in alternating chapters, the story of Irina. In one track, she has been tempted by another man but retreats to the safety of her long-term relationship. In the other, she gives into temptation and ultimately leaves her long-term partner for the new man.
For me, the true test of a book is if it leaves behind indelible scenes. I’ve often cited THE BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER for the moment when Deborah’s father finally appears. BIRTHDAY had several such scenes for me, along with a perfect last line.
I read a lot, although perhaps not enough to generalize about the state of current fiction. That said . . . I do seem to find a lot of third-act problems in mainstream novels. Sometimes they end abruptly, as if the writer just checked his or her watch (or word-count) and decided to dash, rationalizing that a lot of pleasure had been provided up to that point, and a proper ending would be too tidy, anyway. Others take preposterous turns, or chug complacently along on the fumes of beautiful technique. But some — BEL CANTO comes to mind, and now BIRTHDAY — raise their game in the final chapters, take something very good and make it great. There’s probably a snooker metaphor to be made here, but I admit: I never really mastered the game.
By the way, I also adore THE INFORMATION, another novel in which snooker features prominently. Maybe I’m just a sucker for snooker.