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Sep 27, 2005



A man after my own heart says: "I must also note Stern's use of the comma to give those large sentences structure. I love good comma use."

If it weren't for the semi-colon, I'd run away with the comma. That's not really important now, of course, but if I suddenly disappear from the face of the earth, you'll know where to start looking. Always blame the obvious punctuation.

After the New York Times story, I wanted to love this book, and I didn't. Your dialogue is making certain things more comfortable in my mind, but I keep circling back to the primary issue I have with this novel: I didn't connect on a human level with most of the characters. I say most, because Mocky spoke to me, and when his voice was gone, I felt lost (though yeah, he wore out his welcome; so many relatives do, you know). I feel disheartened when I finish a novel and the characters don't haunt me. Though I closed the book with a strong sense of Jewish history (or at least that aspect relating to turn-of-the-century New York), I didn't think much about the characters after that.

In a previous post, you mentioned that (paraphrasing a lot) Saul's lack of growth was refreshing. I felt like I was treading water with Saul. In the end, he reminded me of that old friend you see on the street and then walk blocks out of the way to avoid. It's going to be the same old story from him and probably he's going to try to borrow money with a promise of repayment that never comes to be.

Derik mentioned the echo in the stories, and one thing that pulled me out of the dream was the repetition of Mocky's story. I wanted it to be in Mocky's voice, not something told by another. Dan's suggest that going back and revisiting the story with the knowledge of how the threads comes together makes sense...but I'm a rereader, and not everyone is. This novel requires a lot of patience to read and I'm still trying to grasp why I should care about Billy Boots.

Dan Green

Seeking characters that "haunt" is a pretty stringent standard. (Focusing mostly on "character," in fact, can often obscure other redeeming features in an author or a book.) Some writers are after haunting characters, while others are not. Stern's fiction has generally always been more about story and situation than about character per se. In his earlier work, the fictional quarter of Memphis called "The Pinch" is really the primary object of collective characterization. Story, setting, style--these are the elements foregrounded in Stern's fiction.

"It's going to be the same old story from him and probably he's going to try to borrow money with a promise of repayment that never comes to be."

Probably not. Saul will likely become someone like Steve Stern.


Kassia: For what it's worth, I never cared for Billy either, and I'm not sure we were supposed to. Contrasting our feelings for him with Saul's sheds light on Saul's situation and character in a way that I imagine is deliberate.

As for the characters... I'm with Dan on this. While I love character's that I can relate to, or "haunt" me, I don't think that is a necessity for any kind of narrative, be it novel, film, or comic. I just need something to hold onto in the work, be it style, theme, setting, formal construction, etc. Whatever the thing is that makes me want to keep going with the work.


Your points are well-taken, though I would argue that different story elements tend to initially attract readers. For me, it's generally character. I am much more forgiving of plot, for example, if I can believe in the characters. I don't have to like them, but I need to feel their humanity (even when the characters aren't human). This is why the Billy character fell flat for me -- I couldn't find the energy to even dislike him. I'm not even sure Saul had the energy.

But I will think about this book again with your words in mind.

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