A one-legged gambler? Huh?

I recently decided to give Edward P. Jones’ 2004 novel The Known World a try, due to a number of converging factors, including great reviews of his new short story collection, an interest in the subject matter, my wife’s frequent complaint that I “only read books by old white guys”, etc. Unfortunately, I’ve been forced to give it up after only 73 pages because (and I realize I’m taking a big risk in admitting this) I found it very confusing. Furthermore, I’m convinced it’s Edward P. Jones’ fault, not mine.

It’s common knowledge that a lot of authors whose books lack clarity get a free pass because no one wants to be accused of not getting it. After all, saying “I don’t understand” sounds more like a confession then an accusation. But, since I lost my last scrap of dignity a long time ago (on June 17, 1998 at 10:13 PM to be precise), I’m not afraid to call a book hard to follow if I have trouble following it. This book is hard to follow.

Although there are several confusing elements in this book, not the least of which is some gauzy vagueness re: time and place, it was a one-legged gambler that finally did it for me. I didn’t remember reading about any one-legged gambler, but here he was being reminisced about on page 73 as if I’d always known who he was. In fact, it seemed kind of important that I already know who he was. Yet, I had to flip all the way back to page 7 to find the poor guy mentioned in passing, and the fact that he was missing a leg didn’t come up. This wasn’t my first time flipping back to see who so-and-so was, whether they were alive, or how many legs they had. I decided it would be my last, though.

I’m now casting about for something else to read, and this novel is back in the stacks for the enjoyment of our less easily confused patrons.

I’m still planning on reading Jones’ short story collections (2004’s Lost in the City, and the brand-new All Aunt Hagar’s Children) when they arrive here at the library. Even I can usually get through a short story without becoming confused.

Usually.

– Norm De Plume

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Published in: on September 12, 2006 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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