Posted by Lizzie on 04/01/08
If I ever inaugurate an unintentionally dirty-sounding e-review series called “Straight to the author’s inbox,” the first one will be to James Collins, and it will read, “Hey James, how’s it going? LOVED THE FIRST HALF OF YOUR NOVEL! xo talk soon L.” (Note to all the publications who’ve cut their book reviews of late: I will provide these under your institutional umbrella for a reasonable fee.) Because while Beginner’s Greek contains some of the most devastating, vivid characterizations (and character assassinations) I’ve read in the past few years, its lovely prose is marred by the fact that the central characters, Holly and Peter–who meet on a flight, lose contact, and spend the next few years (and remainder of the novel) seeking the lost soulmate–are, compared to the surrounding cast, relatively anodyne constructions. While a bullying husband speculates about his ex-wife, visualizing the clotted hairbrush left out for guests that sums up her pitiable circumstances, Peter chases a veritable ghost, a lovely cipher with whom everyone is immediately enchanted, although all we know about Holly is that when Peter met her, she was reading The Magic Mountain. (“She’s a dead ringer for Garbo. She always beats me at chess. She’s first on every punchline. Her drink is Absolut.”) One of the things I love about Larry McMurtry is that he’s one of the few male writers who can portray difficult, irritating women whom men still manage to like. Collins crushes the women in his novel admirably, but his satire can’t hold up against someone who only gives other people crushes. James: EVERYONE is worthy of crushing. Leave the bewitching, blank siren for Roth. He’s probably trademarked her by now, anyway.