Hawking Up Hairballs

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yadda Yadda

I used the title above because I don't want to have to write the name of Tod Wodicka's novel more than once. It's All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well. As you can guess from the snide remark, I didn't much like this book. The New York Times reviewer, Janet Maslin, made it sound like it a quirky, comic novel, and that's probably what Wodicka intended, but it doesn't measure up.

Here's the set-up. The main character, one Burt Hecker, is a sixty-three-year-old widower who has made a mess of his life. He has found reality so difficult to deal with that he long ago retreated into the world of medieval re-enactments. He has pretty much lived as his medieval character, Eckbert Attquiet, for years. That means dressing in the proper garb, a dagger-edged, taffeta tunic, and sandals. It also means only eating period food, and drinking mead. Lots of mead. Burt has also become a drunk, and it's only made things worse for him.

Burt is estranged from his two grown children, and Wodicka's novel is the story of his attempt to come to some sort of reconciliation with them. In the end, he fails. And you know what? I didn't care. That's the biggest problem with Yadda Yadda. Burt is such a pathetic loser, and so incorrigibly so, that I didn't much like him. I kept thinking that he was only getting what he deserved. It could have been a much better novel. Burt kind of reminded me of the Ignatious J. Reilly character from A Confederacy of Dunces, though a Reilly who'd grown old and unfunny. There should have been some great comic possibilities in such a character, but Wodicka failed to find them. The book jacket says that Wodicka lives in Berlin. Maybe it was the climate there in Germany, cold and overcast, with that Nazi past lurking in the background. It wouldn't seem to lend itself to much comedy that isn't political.

As for the other characters, they weren't really likeable either. Burt's two children, a daughter and a son, both come off as whiny and self-involved. His mother-in-law, with whom he has never gotten along, seems like she was cribbed from the evil grandmother character played by Cloris Leachman in the TV comedy, Malcolm in the Middle.

I'm being hard on Wodicka's book, and that's not the fashion these days, especially among the younger generation. They favor the anodyne approach to writing reviews. If you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all. That seems to now apply to the Times' Books section. (Except in the case of books like Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke. But more on that in a future entry.) I went back and re-read Maslin's review after finishing Yadda Yadda. It seemed to me that she was trying to say positive things about the book, even though she didn't much care for it. Of course, that just may have been my biases at work. In any case, I will now read the Times' reviews more carefully before deciding whether or not I want to spend any time with the book under consideration.


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