Monday, January 19, 2009

Best American Comic Novels?

The Guardian, as part of it's 1,000 Novels project, recently featured author Rick Moody 's list of the best American Comic Novels .  This list included David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and Dawn Powell's A Time To Be Born.  I've read the Wallace, Vonnegut and the Heller, but I'd never even heard of Dawn Powell, nor A Time To Be Born.

Infinite Jest is my all-time favorite book, so I'm glad to see it included on this list.  I enjoyed and appreciate Catch-22, but I just don't understand why Breakfast of Champions made this list.  I first read BoC at the end of an all-Vonnegut marathon.  I started with Slaughterhouse-Five  and then went on from there.  BoC was the last Vonnegut novel that I actually finished (I started Galapagos , but I never finished it).  I think I started to see Vonnegut's formula too clearly and was unable to enjoy the books because all I saw was the formula.  I found BoC to be especially frustrating because of all of the silly illustrations.  Some people point these out as the genius of the book, but I saw it as a gimmick.  And maybe I was just burned out on Vonnegut and needed a break and I'd lost perspective.  Maybe that's true, but my memory of the book is that it wasn't all that great and I didn't get why people made such a bit deal out of it.

So anyway, I don't really have a good replacement for BoC on Rick Moody's list, but I know that if it were my list, I'd probably choose some other Vonnegut.  

So anyway, I'm reading Moody's description of American Comedy now and I think I'm finding it a little annoying.  He makes it sound like all American Comedy is poop and fart jokes.  Now, I like a good fart gag as much as the next guy, but I think that Moody is ultimately saying that we, as Americans, are a crass people and his selections here are indicative of this attitude.  For example:

Infinite Jest is about addiction in all of it's forms - to substances, entertainment, sports, education, etc.  It's also about gross commercialism.
Breakfast of Champions is, at it's core, about consumption and commercialism.
Catch-22 is about war and how war doesn't make sense.
And, according to Amazon, A Time To Be Born's main character is the very definition of Ugly American.

So from all of this we can conclude that Rick Moody thinks that Americans are addicted to commercialism, full of hate and war, uneducated, or at least grossly misinformed.  I'm not sure if I should be offended or not.  Moody is an American himself, after all...

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