Saturday, March 07, 2009

Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself

So the narrator of this novel I'm reading, Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski, is a character named Mischa Berlinksi. Mike's reaction to this information was, "So he read Everything is Illuminated." I feel for the guy, since he was probably working on this book five years ago when Everything came out, and he's going to be looked at as a Johnny-Come-Lately to the self-named narrator bandwagon, but I have to say his use of this is irritating me way less than Jonathan Safran Foer's did.

JSF was my least favorite part of that book. It seemed at once self-indulgent and as though he was laughing at himself in order to laugh at the reader, somehow. Is this character you, or isn't he? This isn't an experience you had. Is it that you were imagining yourself in that experience? Is this really how you see yourself? But that's so sad; this was no Mary Sue situation. If it was a fictional character, why give him your name?

Berlinski is doing something different. I'm not 100% sure why he's using his own name, but it helps that I like the character, and that it is a believable rendition of someone writing about himself. He's not much of a character, either--one thing I love about this book is that it is, in large part, a reporting procedural. He heard about this interesting story and tracked it down, and the shape he is using to tell the story is the shape of his investigation into it. "He" being Berlinski the character, who is a writer and, so far, not much else.

Basically, I feel like, in Fieldwork, this gimmick is adding a layer of veracity, and I really am wondering how much of the time the author spent in Thailand is reflected here, how many missionaries and anthropologists and international teachers and hill tribesmen he met before deciding to write a novel around them. In Everything Is Illuminated, the trick was used to put distance between you and the author; it turned his third person narrator into someone unreliable, who either didn't really like himself or was lying outright about who he (thought he) was.

To be fair, though, Fieldwork uses way too many italics, which pitfall Everything managed to avoid. Credit where credit is due.

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