Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Valetudinarian and POV
Check out this Joshua Ferris piece a few New Yorkers ago (a damp evening last week had me in the bathtub with a stack of back issues. Bliss!).
I loved this story, but if Joshua was sitting at the table with us on Thursday nights, we'd rake him over the coals for breaking a whole bunch of rules. For instance, at one point in the story Ferris inexplicably shifts to the POV of a character on the other end of the phone in a speculative scene hours later, then there's a space break and then we're back to the main character. Some would call this a leap. Some would call this presumptuous. Me, I just had to reread a couple of time to get it, and after I did I enjoyed the irony and appreciated the reasons why Ferris slipped that in.
The ending, however, left me mid-stream in a way I'm not fond of. The story opens with a head on collision involving a character we never meet, and extenuating circumstances that never bear out in the rest of the story. The ending is similar. There are three characters in the scene, and the motivations and passions of each of them are knotted in a convoluted mess. What will happen next is horribly unclear in a way that makes me mad. Broken contract with the reader mad.
But the story as a whole explored the underbelly of reality so well, I couldn't, at the end, hate Ferris. I started this story in the tub, but had to leap out of the tub and rush to the bedroom in order to read the story aloud to my husband, and he loved it, in a way he rarely does a New Yorker tale. We also did quite a lot of smooching afterwards--and I know that tmi, but there was something startling, sexy and profoundly sad about this obsessive character. The title, which means "someone obsessed with his own health" is much meatier and odder than "hypochondriac" which would have been a lesser-writer's choice for this story.
All in all, the story has been living in me for several days, and I'm a little obsessed with it myself. Is there a word for someone who obsesses over a story? Bibliodinarian, or something?
And here it is