I just started the last section of Ed Park’s Personal Days–this final section appears to be a long rambling letter of the unreliable narrator type such as concludes The Rotter’s Club–which reminds me of a particularly asinine passage in the incredibly overrated Godel Escher, Bach, which for some horrible reason I remember after nearly thirty years, where Hofstadter writes about how, when you read a book, you know you’re coming to the end, which affects your expectations, unlike in real life stories or in a movie of indeterminate length, when the end can come as a surprise. The natural solution for a book would be to pad it with an indeterminate number of empty pages–not completely blank, of course, that would be too obvious, but with sentences that are clearly different from the main story. Hofstadter fatuously concluded that this would be impossible: to be convincing, the fake story would have to be close enough to the real one that, essentially, it would be part of the main narrative. But that’s completely wrong: it would be easy enough to just have an only barely related story at the end, and then when the main story really did end, for example on page 240, the author could just have a paragraph saying, “This is the end of the story. The rest is padding,” or something like that. I mean, you’re not expecting the reader to look too carefully at the end matter: either it’s really part of the book and the reader wouldn’t want to lose the suspense, or it’s fake matter, in which case the reader would still like to preserve the suspense of the story’s actual length.
But that’s not what I was planning to write about. What does Personal Days remind me of (besides it being a remake of Then We Came to the End)? The similarly alphabetically-structured Kafkaesque office nightmare story office nightmare Forlesen, for one thing. Although, oddly enough, Gene Wolfe was a Republican when he wrote that story, I think. The focus is different, though: the office takes up almost all of Forlesen’s life time, but his family is ultimately what is central and nobody in the office is real to him; in Personal Days, only the office is real; the characters have no families.
My favorite things in Personal Days so far are the management-speak in the Jilliad and the goofy three-syllable restaurant names.
I pretty much couldn’t keep the characters straight, even when I was reading the book. But I suspect this is part of the point. We’ll see how I feel when I’m all done.
P.S. I am still training myself in writing with precision: two paragraphs above where it says “My favorite things,” I originally had the sloppier “The best things.” On the other hand, editing a blog entry is almost the definition of a waste of time. On the other other hand, I like to think this keeps me in practice for more important writing efforts.
P.P.S. I think I am ideally qualified to use the term Kafkaesque, having never read anything by Kafka except the first two pages of that story they give you to read in high school, where Gregor Samsa wakes up as a bug. I’ve read too much Orwell to be comfortable with “Orwellian.”
P.P.P.S. Can blogs do hypertext? The Hofstadter digression in the first paragraph above belonged just where it did, but it’s a distraction from my main points. I’d like to be able to enter it as some sort of clickable sidebar (without going to the trouble of setting it up as its own blog entry, which I just don’t want to do)?