Friday, November 14, 2008

An Increasingly Banal Life

I've been a fan of David Lodge ever since I read Nice Work as a newly minted PhD, a fictional account of a new PhD's job search via adjunct teaching positions. She finds out that a life in academia is nice work if you can get it (a la the song, which plays in my head whenever I see the title on my shelf). So when I saw his newest, Deaf Sentence, I was particularly interested. My father suffers from increasing deafness, and I have always had some trouble with auditory discrimination (picking out a conversation from background noise).

And the first half of the book was delightful. The narrator, Desmond, is, of course, intelligent and acutely self-aware, and he articulates in detail the daily struggles involved with a diminished capacity to hear. One of my favorite parts, that actually made me laugh out loud, was this, from a party conversation:

"The pastime of the dance went to pot," Sylvia Cooper seemed to say, "so we spent most of the time in our shit, the cows' in-laws finding they stuttered."
"What?" I said.
"I said, the last time we went to France it was so hot we spent most of the time in our gite, cowering behind the shutters."
"Oh, hot, was it?" I said. "That must have been the summer of 2003."
"Yes, we seared our arses on bits of plate, but soiled my cubism, I'm afraid."
"I'm sorry?"
"We were near Carcasonne. A pretty place, but spoiled by tourism, I'm afraid."
"Ah, yes, it's the same everywhere these days," I said sagely.
"But I do mend sherry. Crap and sargasso pained there, you know. there's a lovely little mum of modern tart."
"Sherry?" I said hesitantly.
"Ceret, it's a little town in the foothills of the Pyranees," said Mrs. Cooper with a certain impatience. "Braque and Picasso painted there. I recommend it."
"Oh yes, I've been there," I said hastily. "It has a rather nice art gallery."
"The mum of modern tart."
"Quite so," I said. I looked at my glass. "I seem to need a refill. Can I get you one?"

Soon after that passage, however, the plot declines into the travails of Desmond's even-more-deaf and aging father and Desmond's own sexual longings, which turned me off the book completely. There are few things I hate worse in a book than having to be in the head of an old man thinking about sex. I hated it in Updike's Rabbit Run when I was 16. I recently hated it in Gerald Duff's story Charm City, from Fire Ants and Other Stories. And I really, really hated it in Deaf Sentence.

So despite the abundant charms of the first half, which include musings on why blindness is tragic while deafness is merely comic, and despite the fact that I plowed on through the book to the end, because I rarely give up on a book in the middle (if I do, various endings play in my head for weeks afterwards, so if I don't like a book, it's better to just read the ending the author wrote and get it all over with), I didn't end up liking Deaf Sentence. The puns of the first half eventually give way to Desmond's banal life in the second, and if I want banal life in November, I can just put the book down, now can't I?

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

This was the poem for today at poetry daily:
My Father Adjusts His Hearing Aids

Once again my old man has gutted his hearing aids.
On the table beside him, around the smallest blade of his pocket knife,

his hearing aids lay scattered like the scrutinized guts of bugs.
Somewhere in those parts—the coils, the discs,

the blue copper veins—somewhere in that chaos lies the riddle
of sound. Now in the dark kitchen he faces the window

where the first stars tremble in the branches of his oaks.
The house is as quiet as a broken watch.

He knows the score—nothing will ever be
repaired again, nothing will ever work as it did. The dumb wind

says as much, and the needles raining in the yard.
The silence around his shoulder is my mother's arm.