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Posted March 12, 2004
If you're looking for a book to become truly absorbed in, one you'll probably want to re-read as soon as you've finished the last page, this is it. There is such a richness and abundance of thought in these pages, now that I've read it twice I feel like I can dip into it at random and find something worth rediscovering, whether it be earthquakes, improvisational jazz, the physics and engineering of dam construction,the particularly haunting old structures from pre Civil War years that abide today right next to modern buildings of glass-box construction, of course woven elegantly into the main elements that compose a love story: obsession, personal revelations and concealments, humor, mystery, and enchantment. There is a Proustian consciousness of the profound ambiguities of memory, and how its hidden secrets yield a determining influence on our lives, until they rise to the surface and can be overcome, absorbed.... Perhaps I'm wieghing this down with too many generalities, but this novel contains so much, any simple 'rendering' or 'encapsulation' of the plot would be to do it an injustice. So let something intentionally simplified suffice: a middle-aged man and a young woman fall in love in pre-millennial New York City, both of them are survivors, and in falling in love with each other, both of them come into much closer contact with just what it is that they have survived - its implications and consequences - which brings their budding relationship into serious jeopardy. It seems that McElroy has been compared throughout his career to authors like Pynchon, DeLillo, Coover, Barthelme, and Barth, but here you find much less of the antic (and sometimes silly) humor of the latter three, something much more accessible and less self-consciously 'important' than anything Pynchon has written. DeLillo would be the closest comparison. McElroy has the same gift for capturing the rhythms and nuances of everyday speech, the same sort of global consciousness, the same ability to capture and captivate the reader. But DeLillo, in my opinion, is more likely to be self-indulgent, abuse your attention as a reader (see Cosmopolis, The Body Artist, Ratner's Star, The Names...), where McElroy's serious purpose is always evident, even when he is charming you with humor. Since reading Actress in the House I've also read the author's ingenious first novel, A Smuggler's Bible, and am now looking forward to the December publication of Lookout Cartridge before undertaking the mammoth Women and Men. Joseph McElroy is a true discovery for me. I hope to share it with many, many people. Was this review helpful to you?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.