Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Emperor of Ocean Park

I'm abandoning this book at p. 149. It's going very slowly. I find it way too wordy, and in general a bit self-indulgent and ultimately sloppy as a work of fiction. There are digressions, almost riffs, that seem to have little to do with anything -- just too much detail. In the guise of character development, the author imposes on us his candidate for the best DVD ever made and preaches to us about the importance of community service.

Most of all, though, the characters are simply not sympathetic. The narrator, in many ways an alter ego of the author, tells us so often that he is not really a nice man that you begin to believe it. One of his least endearing qualities is his devotion to a calculating, selfish and blatantly unfaithful wife. Other characters are cardboard.

The book is hyped as a window on the world of upper middle class African Americans, which, not too surprisingly, is remarkably similar to the world of upper middle class white Americans, except for occasional flashes of what the author/narrator must think is attitude. Ho-hum.

Stephen Carter has a lawyer's facility with words, but the prose in the end is pedestrian. There are occasional witty remarks and some nice turns of phrase. If I was spending a lazy week at the beach, I might have the patience for this, but I need something more substantive to sustain me in the workaday world.

I rarely decide to abandon a book. It usually just happens that I put it down one day and don't pick it up again, and then find myself starting something else. Occasionally, I'll come back to a book I abandoned and for some reason find it more appealing. Might happen here, but I doubt it.

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