And there is a fair bit of frustration to be had in this novel. As a sort of homeopathic effort to prevent myself from getting too angry at the extraordinary awfulness of many passages, I tattooed the margins of this book liberally with “ughs” and “wtfs.” (E.g., “We made interstellar contact, paralyzed by the mutual knowledge that any attempt to communicate would be culture-bound” or “I was so far out on a narrative limb that I knew I was ripe for amputation.”) Very little, however, could diminish my irritation with Powers’s glib depictions of theory-mad English students and his winsome reduction of humanism to remembering famous lines from famous poems and a constant “can-you-identify-the-allusion” memory game.
But I’d happily defend the novel, and even recommend it, and I’m sure I’ll be returning to Powers, maybe even shortly (Gain has me very interested).
Fair enough I’ll readily admit that Powers generally packs interesting ideas, even if his prose isn’t up to fleshing them out. Though this I cannot abide:
Powers talks very frequently about his love for high modernism, and it is all over his novels: “Proust, Mann, Joyce, Musil, Kafka” as he renders it in this minnesota review interview with Jeffrey Williams (whose interviews are models of the form). Yet right before that he mentions Thomas Hardy, and I feel that he probably undersells the influence of that type of realism on his novels because it’s less sexy on the back cover as a blurb.
Are people seriously comparing Powers’ prose to Proust, Kafka, Hardy, etc.? That’s fairly ridiculous.