The 2016 Tournament of Books - Quarterfinals, Day Three

The 2016 Tournament of Books - Quarterfinals, Day Three

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara vs. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

A Little Life is a book that I loved. It's a book that left me sobbing at the end.

It is an odd book, though. As someone who suffers from depression, I think that the portrait of depression and trauma and self-loathing that Yanagihara draws is one of the best I've ever read in a novel. What's odd is that while Jude's depression and abuse and trauma is so well defined, so specific, every other aspect of the book is...less specific.

I know that this is a lingering pet peeve among some readers, and I understand. It is a book that's set in the present day but it's also detached from any event going on in the world or the city. There is a fairy tale like quality to the city and the setting that seems at odd with the specificity of Jude's mindset.

On the one hand I do understand the decision. I know from my own experience how the world and its events can often retreat into the background, how they can contribute to one's general malaise, but depression also blocks out a lot of the world. Just as depression means that so much that one sees and experiences is ignored or blocked out, so too does it prevent one from registering and processing what else is going on in the world. I know that the period of time where I am least up on global affairs are when I'm frantically obsessed with a project that occupies all my free time and keeps me up at night, and when I'm brutally depressed.

The Tsar of Love and Techno is very dark novel - though there are multiple hilarious moments that left me cracking up. Of course it is a novel about Russia in the Soviet era and more recently. There is a bleak fatalism, a landscape dominated by cruelty. Composed of interconnected stories, the book does an exceptional job of piecing the stories together and providing answers to the reader, although not necessarily to the characters.

If A Little Life is a book about empathy, Tsar is a much more writerly book that is less based on experiencing the psyche of a single character and more to surrender to the writer's perspective and mindset. They're both amazing books and I recommend both of them (didn't I write this in yesterday's quarterfinal round?) but in the end I have to go with Marra. Mostly because of his sentences and his lines about wheelchair ramps and the Tom Hanks fan club (among other things).

My Pick: The Tsar of Love and Techno

Over at the Tournament:  The Tsar of Love and Techno

No comments:

Post a Comment