Friday 11 July 2008
Park Slope is where I stayed, in a Bed & Breakfast, when I arrived in Brooklyn last year. Shady streets of shabby-pretty renovated brownstones sloping towards Prospect Park. Where I sat on the stoop, watching neighbours chat and stop to browse a box of books put out in the front yard opposite, poked at the word as I sat on it: stoop, brownstone - words from my second language that is also English. Waiting with some trepidation for a person I knew quite well (from their blog, of course) and knew not at all to come walking up the street, jet-lagged and time-lagged, sweating in the New York heatwave, I was glad to be somewhere so congenial and comforting, somewhere I'd quite like to live (I never could, of course - considerable affluence is now required to rent or buy there, though some of the longer-standing denizens are perhaps not so affluent).
A Park Slope brownstone is home to psychoanalyst Dr Erik Davidsen, protagonist of the novel I've just read, The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, and it's where she lives herself, I believe. I loved this novel, as I've loved all her novels. I note from reviews that readers love it or hate it, with quite a few in the latter camp. Well, it's gentle, cerebral, spacious and messy-like-life. So I suppose that's to be expected. For myself, the powerful but low-key evocation of character, place and mood, interspersed with musings on history, memory, art, psychology pleased me greatly.
I've been noticing that I don't, these days, crave vicarious tension or emotion from novels or films. This takes me by surprise, for it used to be a fundamental need. Now, I find it disturbing, inappropriate, unwelcome - I have enough trouble dealing with real-life emotional ups and downs. So this kind of novel is perfect: painting and peopling its imagined world by circling slowly, building up detail, not by means of frantic pace or busy plot, leaving me not overstimulated and then let down, but pondering images and insights. An artefact to treasure.