This is probably too tragic of a book. Don't get me wrong: I really enjoyed it. I haven't read a book this fast since... John Scalzi's "Old Man's War," I think (although that I read faster). But! By the end of "The Imperfectionists," I was thinking: "Come on. Not even one person ends up happy after all this?" Actually, one of the characters is not reduced to unhappiness; but he is, at least, dissapointed.
The theoretical problem with this perfusion of misery, though, is that it works: "The Imperfectionists" is poignant and a very enjoyable read because of, well, the misery. The misery had me coming back, folks: it made the characters seem real, the stories seem true, and the lessons seem anomalously useless, dead-beat, not there. Is there some resonance of life here? God, I hope not. But I fear so.
However, there's at least one more theoretical problem of liking this book: namely, the theoretical problem of liking this book. In reading this novel it was hard not to keep thinking of this article by Michael Cisco, in which he is (according to me) basically saying that the novel - those books, I suppose, that have "a novel" written under their title on the dustjacket - is basically a means for the middle class to fellate itself. He says:
I found this argument terribly compelling. A lot of modern literary/mainstream novels are about middle class people and their bland, generalizable issues that are not really terrible problems coming to the fore in ways that make them seem like terrible problems - namely by aggrandizing the inner life and all its attendant jealousies, eroticisms, fetishes, quirks. That's probably why most "literary fiction" can be boiled down in some way to "relationship fiction," since that's what most of it seems to be about. But it's also probably why it's compelling - at least for middle class people.
So, in thinking thoughts like these, is it still possible to think well of this book? I mean, should I? Can I? It's not written in lavish prose or some special kind of writing that makes me want to read it just for the writing: I was reading it for what it was written about. But, I mean... it is very entertaining. And, though it isn't exactly "proetry," it's written in a very interesting way, presenting a bunch of different interesting characters and slowly weaving them together, drifting together and floating apart, portraying (for the most part) very real lives, ambitions, failings, loves, losses, etc. It's convincing. It drew me in, and I read it incredibly rapidly (a good sign, judging by my reading habits), and I liked it.
But in theory I maybe shouldn't have.
But what's theory got to do with it?