by Andrei Winograd
John DiFelice is a piece of work. And so am I according to him. Perhaps that’s why we quickly hit it off when our families first met in a situation that can be described as risky: we were to spend 10 days together in a house that was neither his nor mine, in a country that was neither his nor mine and where none of our mother tongues was spoken. Things went well, very well, really, in spite of John having failed miserably in explaining me the rules of baseball. We became friends and our families have since been guests at each other’s homes.
I’ve always wondered why people become critics. Why does somebody prefer to give his or her opinion on something instead of doing that something? Perhaps, as the saying goes, those who know, do; those who don’t, become critics (or teach, depending on who’s saying the saying). Be that as it may, critics must have something to offer to the public. If you follow the latest trends in, say, sculpture, or have a deep knowledge of its history or techniques, you may be prepared to offer the layperson an informed opinion on the merits – or lack thereof – of this or that sculputor or sculpture.
I don’t want to do a critique of critique here, my point is: why did John ask me to write a review of “Lures”? I’m most definitely no scholar of literature past or present, I don’t follow the latest literary trends or any other trends for that matter. Heck, I’m not even a native speaker of English, although my pseudo-English accent might fool you for 5 minutes if you’re not English or for 5 seconds if you are.
I suspect our conversations on God while playing ping-pong in his basement (John’s not God’s) or on the limits of democracy while walking on “my” beach gave him the generally correct impression that I’m a frank person who can be brutally honest when asked a question. I indeed was when he asked my opinion on a draft of his earlier novel “American Zeroes” and I probably didn’t say anything stupid, or if I did, he managed to ignore the stupid bits, because the novel came out excellent.
I don’t mean to imply that “American Zeroes” owes me anything, the merit is all John’s, I’m just making a point here and it’s this: I do occasionally lie, of course, but I usually honour my friends with a candid answer when they ask my opinion on the result of their committed labors. And other than a word mistakenly repeated here or mistyped there, I had no edits to propose to “Lures”.
I knew from “American Zeroes” that John is a very talented writer with a masterful command of dialogue and a knack for writing things you wish you could have written yourself. For instance:
- “It certainly does not match the blessed expectations of conception that my parents had drilled into my head, right after they stopped scaring the shit out of me with tales of unwanted pregnancies and right before they started bugging me for grand kids”. If you are married with kids and read this, you realize there actually was such a blissful period of time.
- “She had fallen in love with the way he loved her”. This short sentence carries in itself a depth of feeling worthy of a 500-page 19th century Russian novel.
- “It’s not about intelligence. It’s about faith. One has nothing to do with the other”. It takes guts to write such a thing these days.
- “The crackle of paper as he put the match to the tip of the cigarette was itself so pleasurable that he wondered if he even needed to inhale. He denied himself for a few seconds, teasing his addiction before the glorious first drag”. You don’t have to be a chain smoker or addicted to anything else to completely understand the pleasure the character is feeling.
- “…the US Constitution… a document he admired as one of the deadliest killer memes ever conceived. To adhere to it is to shut your mind to any other philosophy of governance”. Again, a bold statement, even in fiction, not to mention the originality of the notion of a meme that kills other memes.
- “Lilly and Mary tried their best to created a mold for a unique and lasting friendship between the boys, into which they poured everything they thought would guarantee the desired cast”. Have you ever felt that your and some other child’s parents very much wanted both of you to become best friends? I have and that’s exactly what it felt like.