We were glad to see that we weren't the only ones amused by the Times's editorial about Flux Factory's "Novel" installation. One almost wonders whether this bit of preaching is an editorial joke on readers, since it is hard to imagine such a complete lack of playfulness. The project sounds intriguing, and we hope to go see what architects dreamed up as concentration pods and what the subjects manage to produce.
The thought of writers subjected to public scrutiny naturally brings to mind Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer. We know, we know, it’s hard to feel sorry for a person because the awesome success of his debut effort has created hard-to-meet expectations, but it is a real source of anxiety for many writers. (Personally, we suspect that The Autograph Man was Zadie Smith’s attempt to get her sophomore novel out of the way fast so she could move past White Teeth and on to the rest of her writing life.) In publishing their second novels, The History of Love and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Krauss and Foer have had critics’ and readers’ expectations to deal with, plus they’re young, and they’re married to each other, and the new novels are full of correspondences, and there was that jawdropping item about their home in Park Slope…in short, all eyes are on them, and not necessarily in the nicest, most well-wishing way (though Gothamist quite enjoyed Extremely Loud).
And so we opened The History of Love with greater-than-(our)-usual critical alertness (wishing to judge well) and sympathy (wishing for Krauss’s sake that the mention of her name and work did not necessitate the mention of her husband’s). There are some valid criticisms to be made of this novel, but we don’t want to make them because we were moved, charmed, and, to tell the truth, captivated. Yes, the book is sentimental, but its intelligence and inventiveness prevent it from becoming The Notebook. Janet Maslin ("vertiginously exciting") and Laura Miller ("underwhelming") reported their utterly opposite takes on it in the Times; a good litmus test to determine which critic you’d side with might be your reaction to this sentence: "Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering." If you see nothing but schmaltz, this book is not for you; but if your sense of romance is piqued you will enjoy the way Krauss’s story braids love, loneliness, and a fascination with writing-as-such.
Maud Newton likes it, too, though some of her colleagues remain skeptical. Still undecided? Krauss reads at one of New York’s nicest bookstores, Three Lives and Company, on Sunday at 6pm (and at Barnes & Noble Park Slope on Monday at 7:30).
And if you’re interested in Flux Factory’s “Novel,” information about viewing hours and weekly public readings can be found here.