Reading: M is for Minot. The town in North Dakota? No, the author, Susan Minot. Since I read Monkeys and then Lust & Other Stories (both recommended by someone I knew in college who was himself an aspiring writer), I have enjoyed Minot's writing and have read everything she has written, often times more than once. I chose her novel Evening for book club after I had so thoroughly enjoyed it, only to receive a few complaints and a couple of "meh?!" responses. But I would still highly recommend it (and as always, the book is so much better than the movie, even if Meryl Streep was in it), especially to writers. I am writing today about my favorites.
Monkeys is a novel, though it reads more like a series of short stories all about the same family and spanning a period of 13 years. The large family (7 children and their parents) are a privileged New England family with their share of dysfunction. Who doesn't love dysfunction?? (Tolstoy said in the beginning of Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." And I would add, "though even if their unhappiness and dysfunction is different than your own, you can probably still relate!") The writing style is such that the main "events" of the stories often happen outside of the stories themselves. We learn about them through the memories of the characters as they are revealed and through how the events shape and change the family.
The collection of short stories Lust & Other Stories revolves around central themes of lust, love, relationships. The characters are young, mainly in their twenties and live in New York City. This book may not be for everyone (if you don't like certain four-letter words, or live in a world where people do not "hook up" or have sex with people they are not married to, you may not enjoy these stories), but Minot has such a way of showing us her characters so that she doesn't have to tell us about them, that it is worth reading just for that. And her use of language, as in all of her books, is simply amazing. Whenever I read something by her, I find myself thinking, "Now why couldn't I come up with a description/phrase/scene like that?" I just opened the book to find one example - "You wonder how long you can keep it up. You begin to feel as if you're showing through, like a bathroom window that only lets in grey light, the kind you can't see out." - from the title story. Now isn't that better than saying, "You wonder how long you can keep it up. You think your cover is beginning to show." or something like that?
My other favorite novel of Minot's is Evening. It is the story of Ann when she is 25 and Ann as she lay dying 40 years later, after 3 marriages and 5 children. She is drifting in and out of consciousness, in and out of lucidity, from the past to the present and back again. The writing is poetic and and powerful. One of the complaints from some members of book club was about the lack of punctuation. Specifically, there are no quotation marks. This did not bother me. It is clear when someone is speaking and the fluid nature of the writing does not require quotation marks. The other complaint was that it wasn't written in a linear style, but there are some people who will always whine when the story doesn't progress chronologically. The woman is dying and on morphine, people! She does not think logically and chronologically. She is remembering and reflecting on her life, her loves, her passions, memories of people her family has never heard her mention before. This book may not be easy to read, but then, I believe, as another reviewer has commented (on Amazon.com), that it is for readers who like narratives that ask them to chew and not only to swallow.
Susan Minot's writing is not brain candy. It is not something you gobble down because you are in a rush to get on to the next thing. It is not a McDonald's hamburger. This is a filet mignon, a full-bodied red wine, a rich chocolate cake. Take a bite, savor the beauty of it, chew slowly and enjoy the moment. Her writing is a meal you will still be thinking about long after it is over.
Until we read again,