Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Salute to The Ambassadors?

Ann Patchett is probably not an author I would have really considered reading. She's one of those authors I've "heard of" in the least meaningful way...I've walked past her books in Borders, vaguely registering them to the category of "not interested." And now that I've come across this article from NPR's "You Must Read This" series, Patchett has entered a new category: Never Pick Up A Book By This Author. Who else resides in this category? I couldn't come up with one. There is a separate but related category of Authors To Avoid Unless You Can't Avoid It, in which Henry James and probably Henry Miller are the first two that come to mind, though I'm sure there are numerous others. Fortunately, I don't believe Patchett is the type of author that will end up on any Best 100 lists that I - for some strange reason - make it my goal to wade through.

So, what is it that Patchett has done to incur such wrath from me, who has never - and now will never -read one of her books? She has exclaimed her love for not only Henry James - but The Ambassadors. That book is one of the signs of the Apocalypse, let me tell you. It is the work of a devil.

Here's what she said:

If the topic of conversation for our vacation was going to be The Ambassadors — that notoriously opaque Henry James novel published at the start of the 20th century — I would get to work straightaway.

And work it was. I followed Lambert Strether to Paris as he tried to reclaim the errant playboy Chad Newsome and return him home to his mother. The action was so subtle and the conversations so dense I could scarcely blink for fear of missing something. Suddenly reading felt more like deep sea diving, going miles out on a boat, suiting up in heavy gear, and then swimming down and down into that other world.

But that's what's so beautiful about the book — and about Henry James. Once you get in, it becomes your entire consciousness, the air you breathe. I had never read anything so all-encompassing, nothing that could knock out every bit of ancillary chatter in my brain. What seemed impenetrable at first slowly bloomed open with layer upon layer of meaning. The rewards of the effort were limitless, the literary equivalent of a religious text. As soon as I finished, I wanted to start again.

[Emphasis mine]

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA Ann Patchett you are so funny! Yes, James does feel like swimming - swimming in a sewage-polluted river where you encounter a giant, human-eating monster. You escape, but you are covered in nasty, stinkly slim that takes weeks to get off. Only it's not that exciting. It's also interesting that James knocks out all the other chatter in Patchett's head. Because whenever I pick up James, the chatter in my head increases: "Hey, wouldn't you rather be taking out the garbage?" Oh yes, I would rather take out the garbage. With my copy of The Ambassador's in it.

True friendship is a rare gift in life, but a friend with whom you can read and
reread The Ambassadors cannot be replaced.

Oh, so many mocking things come to mind: With friends like that, who needs enemies? If that's the true meaning of friendship, I'm glad I don't have any friends.

People have read this blog and quickly realized my hatred not just for Henry James, but for The Ambassador's in particular. They e-mail me and say, you're just being hyperbolic right? It can't be THAT bad, is it? "Yes. It really is," I advise them. They tell me they have to see for themselves. It's usually not that long after that that I get a follow-up e-mail. "You were right. It IS that bad." Listen to me here people: it really is that bad. And I would advise you to stay away from anyone who tells you they like it. Those people are working for Satan.

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