It has become in vogue recently to dis Jonathan Safran Foer; his fellow writer and wife, Nicole Krauss; and their hot and shamelessly extravagant (for their age, at least) brownstone in Park Slope with alternating scorn and jealousy, but I'm going to join the fray tonight, thanks to some added first-hand knowledge.
We saw Krauss read from her new book, The History of Love, tonight at the B&N on 82nd St. She opened her reading by saying that the first reading for her first novel in Berkeley was attended by two people, one of whom she sort of knew. Tonight's event was packed, although not as packed as I've seen the space, which is notable for having two blatant obstructions (read: columns) to block your view of the author.
So readings are part love-fest for already-fans and part promotion for hoped-for soon-to-be fans, right? Well, the passage Nicole read tonight did not make me a fan. It was boring, and focused almost exclusively on an old man's interaction with things -- not people, things. All skill at narrating from an old man's perspective aside, my fiction teacher used to warn me, and I paraphrase: Don't let your characters run into the closet and hide for 30 pages. There is no conflict. Readers will get bored. There is only so much you can describe when the only light is what filters through the slats in the doors.
Most good fiction includes a little conflict. The passage Nicole read didn't really give me anything that she didn't tell us all in her introduction.
So yes, the rest of the book might be better, and yes, her first novel might have been better. But I didn't walk away with a copy of her hardcover this evening, and now I'm seriously reconsidering whether I want to read her first book, Man Walks Into a Room.
And yes, Jonathan was there (along with the rest of the extended Krauss clan, it seemed), lurking in the background, looking much younger and meeker and less famous than he really is, although nonetheless attracting the conversations of many fawning young women, B. tells me.