Sunday, February 12, 2012

Peter Nadas's Parallel Stories: a call for discussion


Yesterday, I finished Peter Nadas's
Parallel Stories and I think it might be one of the best books I've ever read. I'm conflicted, though, as I don't think I could sincerely "recommend" the book to anyone. It's over 1100 pages long, consistently X-Rated, and depicts some of the most emotionally and physically cruel scenes I've come across in print. But still, Nadas's control shines through this darkness, and it's wickedly clear that he's orchestrating not only a multi-generational epic but one that challenges literary conventions to their limits. I want to discuss this book so badly with my friends, but I can't in good conscience send them through its vicious genius without feeling somewhat responsible for whatever happens.

The plot revolves around a family living in Budapest, and loosely spreads out, across generations, through the stories of tangentially related family members and acquaintances (and at times even completely independent plots). But, to try to connect all these threads would likely result in frustration--I was befuddled for the first hundred or so pages before I surrendered to Nadas's command. Once I gave into his deliberate, scathing eye, I was astounded with how much subtlety and nuance Nadas could inject into his slow-paced scenes. (The New York Times was so right by comparing the pacing of Parallel Stories to "24-Hour Psycho", Douglas Gordon's video installation that slowed down the frames-per-second of Hitchcock's film so that one screening lasted 24 hours.)

At this pacing, Nadas could drift backwards through history and jump across memories like Laurence Sterne and Marcel Proust.
And this would be a dreamy effect if it wasn't so nightmarish. Parallel Stories is what happens when you drift through the collective memories of a family that lived through World War II and endured the gamut of national and personal atrocities.

I could go on. And on and on. In ten years, Parallel Stories will surely have tomes upon tomes of essays, criticisms and annotations to accompany it and when that happens I will surely buy them and read them all. But, what do I do until then? Aside from this interview, there's a bit of a dry spell out there about this novel. I've been scouring the internet for some substantial discussion on this book, and all I can find are early negative reviews that just say to me that those critics were all working with unreasonably firm deadlines.

There's so much to discuss, and I'm sure there are connections and details that we all missed.

So, here's what I propose. If you, like me, just finished this book and are going through some sort of withdrawal, let's discuss. Leave a comment, let me know what puzzled you, enraptured you, something, and I'll do the same. Hope to hear from you soon.


Currently reading:
Anything I can find about Parallel Stories

Currently listening to:
WQXR

1 comment:

  1. hi just started to read parallet stories it is a bit daunting and i feel llke giving it up but it is quite original and I feel it a challenge to finish what does put me off is the necessary sex contents it seems sometime he put it just for the sake of it
    it is quite post modern i find it difficult to follow the story the different plots seems to weave into each there it is fragmented and time seems to be suspended here

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