I finished this novel almost two weeks ago now, and I just didn’t know what to say about it. It’s a bit of a mess. It’s surely a huge disappointment. I had found previous Kunzru books just interesting enough to come back for more. Both My Revolutions and The Impressionist put Hari Kunzru on my mental list of authors who deserved another reading as new books appeared. Kunzru is now off that list.
I’m not exactly sure what Kunzru meant to do here. Maybe even he doesn’t know. But I think it safe to say be tried to do too much. An ambitious book? Surely. Overly so in the sense that all of the various elements did not fit into a whole and coherent novel. There’s just too much here, and too much that does not belong. Fans of the book would defend it by saying the parts that ‘do not belong’ (in my opinion) are the whole point of the novel. Really?
There are several threads in the novel. They jump back and forth in various time frames (no problem here): chapters identified by a year. These run from “the time when the animals were men” (cut) to 2008 (and 2009) – the present. The primary focus of the novel is a troubled family consisting of Jaz Matharu, his wife Lisa, and their 4-year old, severely autistic son, Raj. Jaz is from a Baltimore Punjabi Sikh family, and Lisa is from an upper middle-class white family. The cultural differences are explored. Eventually they find themselves in a rundown motel in the California desert on a “vacation”. The kid goes missing. We don’t know all these things at once, nor do we know the stories of the other characters, but Kunzru is adept at very comfortable weaving in the back stories of all the major characters. It’s just that I found many of them completely unnecessary. Some of them are more ‘major’ than others. Some themes that the author probably thought were ‘necessary’ to pull it all together, pulled it all apart.
We move back and forth between these stories and time frames – some of them connected directly, some of them only thematically and loosely: 1947, 2008, 2009, 1778, 1958, 1969, 1920, 1970, 1971, 1871, 1942. Topics? Take your pick: cults, Mormonism, the financial crisis, the effects of cultural differences on marriage and especially the generational perspectives, the news media and the public’s voracious appetite for drama and tragedy and the need to alternatelt praise and demonize, alien presences, drug running, shamanism, shape-shifting…..I could go on and on. You get the picture. Pass this one by.
Ok! I got that one out of the way!