The Intuitionist – pg135-end

Having now finished this book and discussed it with my book group, I still have mixed feelings about it.

I feel I should be merciful since it’s a first novel, but maybe his next one should have been published as his “first.”  The main character is a rather thin shell for Whitehead to show us his world and to manifest his examples of how he sees society.  To be fair she develops a bit of character by the end of the book.  But it’s still not much.

The prose are fun.  With their choppy, incomplete sentences.  And I liked that.  I expect it to be refined in future novels.

His vocabular is a bit spastic.  At times he reaches for obscure terms, then later repeats the same adjective three times in a page.  And not in an exercise of artistic license.

The biggest problem was that it fell into the trap of too many mediocre detective stories; that the main character isn’t a character at all, but a foil to bring out the big plot that has transpired.  If she were investigating the secret of Charles Foster Kane, then Kane would be the main character and she’d merely be a device to build Kane’s story upon.  But she is presented as the main character and there isn’t someone else who is more fleshed out for the reader to rest on.

OK, I’ve beaten this book up enough.  Now for what DID work.

A friend usggested, and I agree, that it would have been much more interesting in a visual medium.  There is so much of this alternate mid-20th century world that would be gorgeous and fun to see that if it had been a film or graphic novel, much of this book’s flaws would have been compensated for.  There are times when it’s just fun to see this other world and enjoy it’s style.  Whitehead isn’t limited to archetecture in his udnerstanding of the era.  Clothes, cars, drinks, and social interactions feel right for the time.

Writing in this alternate America of elevator industry celebrities was a brave thing to do.  So he deserves kudos for that as well.

Ultimately, he’s in the clicque of Jonathan Lethem and Paul Auster, and it shows.  This book feels a bit selfconsciously post-modern.  Lethem’s work seems to be post-modern in an effortless and inobtrusive way.  Whitehead seems a bit too aware of what he’s doing yet unable to hide it.  He seems more like the kid who’s a little embarassed to be writing genre fiction so he needs to do something artsy to excuse it.

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