Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: The Comfort of Strangers, by Ian McEwan

The Comfort of Strangers My rating: 2 of 5 stars
So... this is it, then? This is "Postmodernism," this is what our current generation has to show for itself. This kind of book is, somehow, going to be held up in the near future as representative of these, our modern days... "I don't know, man. I think you'd piss a lot of people off..."

The Company of Strangers by Ian McEwan is of a breed with which, I must admit, I am mostly unacquainted. My only other experience in this realm has been White Noise by Don Dellilo. (Listening in on a modern lit. university class taught me, if nothing else, that it's de-LIH-loh, not de-LAE-loh.) That book left me with the same marked ambivalence I have here now. It goes without saying that I've had trouble even with forming an opinion -- then, when it comes, it sits there on the fence, an impenetrable, frustrating, and ugly blob of gray.

Mary and Colin are on vacation (or "on holiday" as someone named Ian McEwan invariably puts it). Mary and Colin are a young unmarried couple who have become disillusioned and dulled by their seven long years of shared experience. Colin is a "girly man" with an apparently "perfect" physique and no discernible personality. I have never seen him naked, but then Mary and Ian keep telling me he's perfect. Ian and Colin, however, are fairly mum on Mary, so she has left no impression at all.

The on-page couple spends the first third of their 127 pages despondently wandering around the neighborhood. Then they meet a guy, Robert, as if by accident. (BUT IT TURNS OUT IT WASN'T AN ACCIDENT!!!! DUM! DUM! DUM!!! ). And he, uh...he takes the pair to a bar and, for some reason, reveals his early years as a daddy's boy, including one ridiculous yet very memorable anecdote (Remember kids: don't snitch on your older sisters). This meeting, as the inside flap discovers to us, THROWS THEIR WORLD UPSIDE DOWN.

I hear this is a tale of violent masculinity, all wrapped up in a quirky suspense/mystery/thriller tale that ends... well, I guess the dweeby, sensitive type finally gets the sand kicked in his face that he always deserved, and that we always knew was coming. I hear the story shambling along, sometimes rambling, but never losing track of its inevitable, obvious conclusion. Suspense -- yes it does exist in this book, but I could never muster the suspense to care.

Like that Delillo book I read, The Company of Strangers created no likable characters and placed them in a totally anonymous location which you might call "Everyville" but which I call "Who-gives-a-rat's-ass-ville" (est. 1945). I kid (at least about the date: we can never be sure when, exactly, "literature" and its Cultural brethren, went to total shit). We are definitely overdue for a resurgence -- something crisp and sexy, not dull and unrelatable.

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