Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Harry, Revised

Mark Sarvas’ debut novel was another book I loved, that I never had the time to post about in the whirlwind of spring.

I waited until paperback to take the plunge with Mark’s book, fearing I might not like it. I am such a big fan of The Elegant Variation, which strikes me as a wonderful model book blog: mostly bookish, but with just enough posts about personal matters to fill out the sense of voice, to make me care all the more about his John Banville obsession. And I’ve met Mark a couple times and like him a ton.

But I knew that it was a book about a young widower, about a man whose wife had died during botched plastic surgery. That seemed dubious to the feminist in me: the woman pays with her life for the man’s epiphany that looks are not all that matters.

In the end, it was true that I found it really hard to take Anna's death: I liked her and identified with "the wife" (besides, that name! oy, my narcissism slays me) so the book was upsetting at first. Still, I persisted and then really, really grew to love the book. Like Ilana Stanger-Ross’s novel, Mark’s is that wonderful kind of book: literary fiction that is a delight to read. Some of the sentences are divine; some of the comedy is hilarious; there are no missteps. For pleasure reading, isn’t it so lovely to find that balance between intelligent and unpretentious?

There is a whole scene about a lost wedding ring, the jeweler's vengeance, the wife's oblivious unraveling of the whole deception is utterly hilarious: it's hard to write great comedy that also has poignancy. I told it to my mom on the phone and she, an aficionado of post-adulterous revenge, cooed "ooh, that's good!"

(She has since read the book, and, uncharacteristically for her [who always sides with wives] concurred that Anna made many mistakes in that marriage, that Harry had a point when...)

Anyway, it’s in paperback and I think it’s totally worth it. It makes me so happy when friends—even virtual friends—write books that I can recommend.

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