Posts Categorized: Nicole Krauss

Review: Great House – Nicole Krauss

Call me misleading, this isn’t really a review.  A review requires finishing or having enough knowledge of something to fool others.  I wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t get into it.  Restarting each section with a new narrator that didn’t seem to relate to the other narrators created a disjointed read.  I’m sure it comes together at some point, however, after reading a third of the book my patience ran thin.  Time to turn the page, and pick up something new to read.

The Young Painters – Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss constructs the story of “The Young Painters” as an address to a judge, but for what reason?  Does it matter that we do not know why she is facing a judge?  For those readers in search of a crime that is distinct and concrete, disappointment will follow.  The narrator is guilty of what many writers are: stealing parts of other people’s lives, lifting the story from a conversation and manipulating it until the narrative is part of the writer’s new story.

The story of the painting on the dancer’s wall, a relic of his murdered childhood friends, as well as the example of the deteriorating health of the narrator’s father, and the father’s failings as a parent are proof of ways in which the narrator has used stories from those she knows.  In the first example, she is guilty and unsure about wanting to see the dancer again.  She doesn’t know how he’ll react.  What will he say?  In the other example, she waits until after her father has died to write a novel that clearly reflects his life.

The irony the narrator uses is striking.  In the following passage, after talking about how she took and took from her father’s life, she says:

In the publicity interviews I gave, I emphasized that the book was fiction and professed my frustration with journalists and readers alike who insist on reading novels as the autobiographies of their authors, as if there were no such thing as the writer’s imagination, as if the writer’s work lay only in dutiful chronicling and not in fierce invention. I championed the writer’s freedom—to create, to alter and amend, to collapse and expand, to ascribe meaning, to design, to perform, to affect, to choose a life, to experiment, and on and on—and quoted Henry James on the “immense increase” of that freedom, a “revelation,” as he calls it, that anyone who has made a serious artistic attempt cannot help but become conscious of. Yes, with the novel based on my father if not flying then at least migrating off the shelves in bookstores across the country, I celebrated the writer’s unparalleled freedom, freedom from responsibility to anything and anyone but her own instincts and vision. Perhaps I did not exactly say but certainly implied that the writer serves a higher calling, what one refers to only in art and religion as a vocation, and cannot worry too much about the feelings of those whose lives she borrows from.

The narrator goes further and says, “In her work, the writer is free of laws. But in her life, Your Honor, she is not free.”

The more we read, the more complicated the narrator becomes.  She can be selfish, but she is also self aware.  That doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll change, but she knows the consequences, and is willing to continue on.  I wonder too, if part of her lack of freedom in real life is due to the realization that there is not always time, and the events she has missed, like having her own child, are simply gone.  The last section of the story focuses on a child crying out and the narrator being haunted by the sound.  It links up with the earlier prose about the narrator and her husband wanting to have a child at some point, but never feeling quite ready.  In the story, the narrator isn’t sure what this cry means, only that it leads her to distrust herself.
At first glance, this looks like a simple story.  It’s pared down to a few well written scenes, but the subtext is packed.  What can we believe from the narrator?  In most of her interactions she seems to warp what happens and dramatizes it.  What is the tension between Krauss and the narrator and the reader?  If the narrator distrusts herself, can we trust her?  I wondered, if she called her husband S. because she respected his privacy, and his life?

“The Young Painters” explores what it is like to be a writer in a way that is smart, ironic and humorous, a combination that is hard to beat.

Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss

What would you do if your memory from adolescence to the present were wiped out? That’s the central question in Nicole Krauss’ novel Man Walks into a Room. The novel follows the events of Samson who disappears from New York and is discovered wandering the desert outside of Las Vegas, sick and incoherent. It turns out he has a tumor in his brain, which when removed causes the loss of his memories since age twelve. However, he does not suffer any other effects from the surgery. That was one part I found a little unbelievable, then again, I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the brain and how it works. I was willing to let this go, but it still seemed a stretch.

Samson returns or tries to return to his life. He is an English professor in New York, married to a caring and beautiful woman, has plenty of concerned friends. Yet all of this seems alien to him. With no memory of who he was, he doesn’t identify with this life or feel a connection with the people who care for him. He feels there is this vast expanse in his mind, this empty space where the old memories were. He’s not sure he wants them back, or that he wants to be who he was. He identifies with explorers and astronauts, because he sees his mind and lack of identity as a new frontier. He’s not the only one though.

This novel explores what makes us who we are. Are we a collection of habits and preferences? How do we recognize people in our lives? We perceive them to act a certain way, because that is how they’ve always acted and thus who they are. If the experiences which form us are swiped away, who are we, and how can we be close to the people with whom we’ve shared those experiences?

At times Samson seems callous and small. He is unable to empathize with people, partly because he feels a lack of connection, but also because he can’t remember experiencing the emotions his loved ones feel. So much is new to Samson as he navigates through his life.

Another moment in this novel which is a little unbelievable as well, is when Samson gets a phone call from a brain researcher. The man convinces Samson to come out to California for a project. This project involves implanting a memory from someone else into another person’s brain. Since Samson visualizes his memory as having a wide open void, he seems like the perfect candidate. Krauss does a decent job of supplying Samson’s reasons and motivations for the experiment, but still it’s difficult to imagine someone signing on for such a project. When the memory is implanted, things do not turn out how either Samson or the researcher thought.

The final section of the novel involves Samson dealing with this outcome and eventually finding his place in the world again.

If this doesn’t seem like a narrative that interests you, another reason to read this book is how beautifully and succinctly it’s written. Some people may complain that not enough happens, or we spend too much time in Samson’s thoughts. While that may be true, this is a novel about thoughts, about memory and identity. Reading it makes you think about your own life and what events have shaped your being. Even though the premise might be hard to believe, once you accept it the narrative is compelling.

Man Walks Into A Room

Just started this book, and am about 50 pages in. So far, it’s compelling and interesting. Premise is that the main character loses his memory from the last 25 years.