The Sunday Salon Review: What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt

Good morning, Saloners!  It’s a gray, overcast morning in eastern Pennsylvania and the weather forecast isn’t very promising.  I guess that means I will have to face that pile of laundry. I made a batch of banana muffins to help me face this onerous task!  Later today we’re having lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant to celebrate my husband’s birthday, which is actually tomorrow.  We’ll have cake and presents back home, and because we will be completely stuffed, our evening meal will be a very casual affair indeed.  Like maybe more banana muffins.  🙂

I’ve had two books on the go this past week, and just finished one of them (Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved) last night, so I’m including my review in today’s post.  More on that in a moment.  I’m also reading At Large and at Small, by Anne Fadiman, a delightful collection of essays.  I’ve been taking it to work with me this past week for lunchtime reading.  As I’ve mentioned, lunchtime reading is an important part of my day.  While last week was pretty busy and lunch was often abbreviated, I found I could easily read one essay during my lunch break, recharging my batteries for the rest of the day.  And as an added bonus, several of the essays have inspired blog post ideas, so I’ve been keeping notes.  Look for my review of this book later in the week.

Next I’ll be reading Josephine Tey’s A Shilling for Candles, which I’m reading for The Classics Circuit Golden Age of Detective Fiction tour.  I don’t read many mysteries, but this presented another opportunity to discover a new woman author, so how could I resist?  My tour stop is June 6, so I’m getting a bit of a head start on what is actually a short book.  But I don’t like to feel pressured to write my Classics Circuit reviews, so you’ll just have to wait a while to read my thoughts!

OK, so, now let me tell you a bit about What I Loved. And enjoy your day!

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Leo Hertzberg, an art history professor in New York City, narrates this story, reflecting on a quarter century of friendship with artist Bill Wechsler and his wife Violet.  Leo first met Bill after discovering one of his paintings.  At the time, Bill was married to another woman, Lucille.  Leo and his wife Erica befriended Bill and Lucille, and each woman gave birth to a son within weeks of each other.  When Bill’s marriage to Lucille broke up over Violet, Leo and Erica quickly accepted the new arrangement, and the two families were nearly inseparable for just over a decade.  Then tragedy struck, and Leo & Erica’s relationship foundered.  Bill and Violet remained their steadfast friends, even as they began to experience problems with their own son Mark, who was hanging out with questionable characters from New York’s art and club scene.  Leo became even closer to Bill and Violet as they struggled to understand what was happening to their son.

I had a three main problems with this book.  First, I’m not “into” the whole art scene:  artists, openings, controversy over artistic methods and interpretation, and so on.  The first 130 pages (Book One) is full of this stuff — what a good friend called, “a lot of big city academic masturbation.”  I really wondered if anything was ever going to happen.  Book Two promised more action and plot development, and even introduced an element of suspense around Mark.  I found myself guessing outcomes, trying to find the twisted truth behind the written word.

Then my second problem arose: the suspense completely fell flat.  There were no surprise twists, no skeletons that suddenly leapt from closets to show me how I’d been deceived all along.  It was just a classic case of a troubled kid, corrupted by seedy characters, enmeshed in situations that escalated out of control.  And finally — my third problem — I couldn’t get close to the principal characters.  At one point, after the aforementioned tragedy, I felt extremely sorry for Leo and Erica.  But the rest of the emotional highs and lows fell flat for me, as if I were watching the story unfold from a great distance.  All in all, this book was a disappointment.

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Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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6 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon Review: What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt

  1. I’m still hesitating for some reason to start my copy of Ex Libris by Fadiman… maybe your upcoming review will convince me to dive in.

  2. Thank you — it does! I love your description of the exchange of raised eyebrows… a perfectly restrained response to bad grammar! Much more sophisticated than the eye-roll any day.

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