07 July 2014

Ugh!

 
Many of you will know that one of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is inaccuracy in factual details. So far in my experience, the author Julia Glass seems to piss me off the most. Some of you have pointed out that if the writing is good enough one is less likely to notice such things.

And then came Michael Cunningham's latest novel The Snow Queen. I've liked every Cunningham novel I have read (and I have read them all). Granted, it took me a second try to warm up to Specimen Days, but, overall I like his work. After over 100 pages of TSQ, I just don't think I care enough to go on. I think I may be having trouble because it has a kind of searching, what's it all about, kind of vibe and I am just not in the mood for that right now.

But more than anything the thing I can't get over is that much of the imagery of the book is based on snow. Snow that supposedly happened on November 1, 2004 in New York City. Well, guess what?

It didn't freaking snow on November 1, 2004 in New York City.

I'm not a total nut job, I didn't go look that fact up just to look it up. I looked it up because it was the night before the Bush-Kerry election--which is also part of the story--and I remember distinctly what the weather was that day because I was knocking on doors in Cleveland trying to get out the vote for John Kerry. I know Cleveland and NYC can have different weather, but based on how the weather was that day in Ohio, I had a hard time believing there was snow in NYC. Not to mention the fact that snow that early in November is a rarity.

It just feels like Cunningham had a metaphor he was just dying to play out and couldn't be bothered to make it plausible.

Well, I can't be bothered to finish it.




28 comments:

  1. Okay, but you did give Specimen Days two tries, which was probably one more than it really deserved. I've also read all of Michael Cunningham's books, though not this one yet. I'm sure that I'll get to it before the end of the year. I do think he has grown more uneven since The Hours. The Hours was much tighter, much more controlled and literary than his previous two books which I found to be looser, more sprawling and for lack of a less annoying word more 'organic.' I can see him deliberatly forcing the weather to fit the literary trope he's using at this point.

    But, like a Star Wars fan who still goes to the movies knowing they're going to disappoint, I'm sure to read The Snow Queen anyway.

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    1. It is interesting to see where he started and where he is now. His early books were so straightforward.

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  2. But Cunningham is not a meteorologist. He is a story teller. The weather here merely obscures perception, makes things murky and unfamiliar just like so many other things in this novel do - fear, drugs, politics, illness, love. I really enjoyed this one, and appreciated once again Cunningham's ability to make the most unsavory of realities somehow beautiful. I think maybe you are not in the right mood for this one as you suggest. :)

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    1. You might be right about mood. I still think, however, that he got lazy. You don't need to be a meteorologist to realize that November 1st is a little too early in the year to introduce snow as such a prominent element. And then to key it to a specific date in history that a reader can still remember quite clearly without even needing to verify with actual historic data.

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  3. That bugs me as well. I can't recall the novel, but it was historical and the details about Cape Cod and southeaster MA, places I know well, were way off and it bugged me so much I felt compelled to rant about it in my review.

    Now it's going to bug me what the book was....UGH -- it released a few years ago and had a purple and white cover -- my memory sucks tonight:)

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    1. I've read a few about DC in recent months that had me feeling the same way.

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  4. Hello Thomas,
    I am with you on this, such in your face factual errors do ruin a narrative. How can you willingly 'suspend disbelief' when let down/lied to so blatantly.? I can't: I'd loved Maile Meloy's writing (even giving copies to dear ones) until she set a novel in London. Much of it is in MY road and so full of inaccuracies I could only withdraw from the work, angered by the daft mistakes. She must have been working from a very poor map with a nonsensical scale. I live just on the edge of central London so am close to most of the famous sights/sites but walking, strolling or running to the Thames in 10 minutes is IMPOSSIBLE. It happens as a matter of course in the book and then the characters are almost immediately at the Chelsea Physic Garden, MUCH further away, grrrrrr.
    Snow is memorable, meaningful and Cunningham meant it to be so surely. Having it fall on a significant date readers can remember is bad, full stop.
    This is my first comment here though I've been reading for a while and use your left side bar as a super short cut, so thank you for that.

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    1. Maybe you missed the part where all of the characters have Segways for feet. And glad to have you comment for the first time. Hopefully it won't be the last. I love hearing from others.

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  5. correction, having snow fall on a day it definitely didn't - that's what is bad.

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  6. Read them all.........congratulations on getting to page 100........I quit before that.

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    1. As you will notice in the post I just put up today, I gave the book away.

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  7. I will probably never read this book anyway, but I doubt this inaccuracy would bother me much. I do want to read At Home at the End of the World some day because I have heard good things about it. But I didn’t like The Hours. I had read Mrs. Dalloway maybe a year or so earlier and really loved it and I felt The Hours was the author just showing off how he could imitate Woolf. Maybe I should have read the two books the other way around and my experience would have been different.

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    1. His early stuff like At Home...are a little more straight forward than his later stuff which puts on airs a bit.

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  8. Well, that detail wouldn't bother me (I'm a big advocate of novelists writing fiction!) but if you didn't care about the narrative anyway, that's a big turn off. I've only read The Hours, which I really love, so must read some of the others of his I have.

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    1. Dear StuckInABook,
      I've tried and tried to just let it lie, ie your reply above, but I so mind that I'm wanting to ask others (anybody) if they too would be bothered, distracted, annoyed by blatantly wrong details, would others lose faith in the narrative? If an actual date is used it seems to me the author should take care, after all it could be a reader's birthday - s/he would remember if it rained that day. The writer of fiction is weaving a web that readers willingly enter and willingly become entrapped, enthralled, A clunking great error rips a hole into the web and destroys the readers safety and trust .

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    2. I don't mind novelists writing fiction either. But in this case the author chose a specific date for this to happen, and that date was specific because it related to an historic event. On the one hand he wants to evoke something that his American readers are likely to remember (i.e., how they felt about George W Bush being reelected) but on the other hand he wants to mash his snow metaphor into our collective memory when it was never there in the first place. I've read fiction that imagines Bush not being elected and I don't have problem with that kind of imagination.

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  9. I am sorry you did not like it, Thomas, I read it and absolutely loved the story and the writing, but then again, I often do not notice details like weather. (historical details gone wrong, yes, but weather, no)
    I can imagine it bothers you if you know what kind of weather is was on that day, but it is a shame it made you put the book down completely!

    Kind regards,

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    1. No doubt my lack of interest in any of the characters kept me from getting over my annoyance over the factual error.

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  10. Well, it did not snow in Central Park that day and the low temperature never dipped below 37degrees F....Of course, miracles might have been going on in other parts of the city....I think this would bother me.

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    1. Maybe the snow was really localized and just followed the character around.

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  11. Hello, Thomas!
    How I admired and identified with this post! How inaccurate details in books can be like nails on a chalkboard, especially when it's an unforgettable time in one's life, it's about your own very special beloved places and neighborhoods, and an era in history that you've studied intensively. I am glad you expressed your deep feelings about how the author infringed on that. I've been there. But more than anything, I love it, when in the midst of all the "la politesse" in the blogging world, someone asserts their point of view without holding back.
    Admiringly,
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

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    1. I will have to think of some more controversial stands to take. Things can get a little too polite. Or I should say we should have more people politely speaking up when they disagree. "Me too" mentality gets a little boring.

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  12. HI Thomas ... I think I'm pretty much at the other end of the spectrum. I care very little about factual details in fiction. Sometimes I go to author talks and they tell me how much effort they go to to get the facts right but I would rather they spend time on their language, characterisation, etc. The thing that intrigues me about this fact business is that it depends on what you know. You might read a book sent in Australia that has, say, a lake where there is none, but you don't know that and the book works fine. I might read Cunningham's Snow and know nothing about NEW York's meteorology so the snow works fine for me. Should a work sink or swim on the basis of such serendipity or should it be on the things that matter to fiction? Things that would bother me would be the things that just don't make sense like, say, snow in July in New York. That MIGHT bother me! Even I would know that that would mean climate change had completely run amok!!

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    1. I agree with pretty much everything you say, and there are many times where mistakes don't bother me at all, but I don't think he should have attached this mistake to a fairly recent historical event. It made it way to easy to stick out.

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  13. That seems like a really clumsy mistake to make - you'd have thought he would have checked that or at least his editors would have.

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    1. See that it just it, his editors wouldn't have said anything because his whole snow metaphor depended on it. The whole theme of the book was hanging on the conceit that it snowed that day. I think that is the crux of why it annoyed me.

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  14. You make an excellent point, Thomas, although I wish I had more of an eye for detail and sometimes miss facts. This one, with apparently a central theme to the story, would be hard to ignore.

    Didn't Michael Cunningham write The Hours? Now I have to go check, but I hated that book.

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    1. He did write The Hours, which I enjoyed. Sometimes my eye for detail gets me in trouble.

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