Sigrid Nunez and other things

Right now I’m intensely aware of how changeable I am; last night when I wrote my post about wanting comfort reads I really, really meant it, but shortly after I wrote about that desire I read a post on the book Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture over at The Existence Machine that inspired me to want to read difficult things again. Blood Relations sounds like a fascinating book, and I may read it at some point, by my point right now is that thinking about this book made me want to read more history and science and philosophy, and I got to thinking about how it would be so cool to re-read some of the philosophy I studied in college, and I was off on this plan to begin a philosophy project like the one Stefanie has been doing. Chances are I won’t actually do this, but it’s fun to think about.

Thinking this way is what gets me caught up in big projects like reading In Search of Lost Time. It’s so fun to begin a big reading project, although it’s a lot harder to keep it going, and my changeability causes problems almost right away, because as soon as serious reading gets the slightest bit dull, I’m wanting something comforting again. It’s back and forth and back and forth for me, I’m afraid.

Okay, but I’ve been meaning to write about Sigrid Nunez’s novel The Last of Her Kind. It’s about two friends, Georgette, known to many as George, and Ann, who meet at Barnard in 1968. Ann comes from a rich family from Connecticut and George comes from a poor town in upstate New York, so the first part of the book is about how they negotiate their differences and survive as roommates. The story moves on from there to follow their lives through middle age.

Ann has always been sensitive and idealistic, hating her parents for their wealth and privilege, so it’s no surprise that she becomes involved in the counterculture, organizing and protesting and marching. George is the first-person narrator and, as well as telling her own story of making her way into adulthood, she follows Ann as her life takes off in a very unexpected direction (I read the inside flap of my hardcover copy which gave away this plot event — you might want to be careful not to do the same). George is much more ambivalent about the ideals of the 60s, and, specifically, Ann’s ideals, and so she recounts Ann’s actions with a sometimes admiring, sometimes impatient tone.

The novel is the story of their friendship, but even more so, it’s the story of changing times, as the 60s and 70s give way to the 80s and 90s, and the dreams and aspirations of the earlier time period come to seem hopelessly naive and slightly ridiculous. I loved reading about that earlier time period, and, although I’m not sure I’d want to live through it, exactly, it made me lament the way so many young people seem so politically apathetic these days.

I found much of this book deeply absorbing, but there were parts that slowed, particularly in the second half. Nunez is covering an awful lot of years and an awful lot of events, and at times I felt she rushed through her material a bit. The changes that were happening to the characters didn’t always feel believable, or rather, the characters started to feel alien to me, even though earlier I’d felt like I could have known them.

But this is a small quibble about what was an enjoyable read, especially worth reading if you’re interested in the legacy of the 60s.

7 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction, Reading

7 responses to “Sigrid Nunez and other things

  1. Hi Dorothy -

    Thanks for the link and for dropping by. I know what you mean about changeability and getting in places where you think you want to tackle the big projects. I’m in a phase now where I’m all fired up to read all that philosophy, the huge bulk of which I did NOT read in college, but I won’t be surprised if/when something else comes along to grab my attention when I’m only 20 pages into, say, Spinoza or something.

  2. I admire Stefanie’s reading projects as well. She’s very good at sticking with them–I’m not so sure I would do as well! Glad to hear you enjoyed the Nunez. I agree with you about the way the story slowed and veered off a bit in the second half. Still it was an interesting view of the times.

  3. I think it’s very healthy (despite the circumstances!) to switch between different types of reading. You wouldn’t eat the same food day in day out, and reading is just a different type of nourishment. And oh that Stefanie with her amazing projects! I can only sit back and admire her and know I couldn’t do it myself.

  4. Ok, I am adding Last of Her Kind to my TBR list. You and Danielle and Litlove have me blushing with your kind words. Thanks! I’d love to have you join me in my philosophy project. I’m very slow and will be at if for years and years no doubt. I am hoping to get to the Greek dramas by the end of the year and, cross my fingers, start Plato.

  5. hepzibah

    thanks for the book review, I will add it to my list as well! I am interested in learning more about the counterculture, so this could be a good start…hope you are feeling better!

  6. Richard — well, even if enthusiasm passes, it gets us doing big things for a while at least, right?

    Danielle, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed that slowness in the ending! But it was a very interesting portrait of a time period.

    Litlove, you’re right of course! If I do begin a big project like that, I’d have to proceed slowly and give myself lots of breaks — for the variety you describe.

    Stefanie — we’ll see, perhaps I will join you! I’m still tempted …

    Hepzibah — I would love to know what you think of the book!

  7. verbivore

    It’s interesting to read your thoughts on Nunez. I read her novel For Rouenna a few years back and really enjoyed it so I’m looking to try another of her books.

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