“Great Form” Is Not the Same Thing As “Great Story”

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There’s no reading experience quite like the novel “S.” Unfortunately, there are a hell of a lot of stories EXACTLY like those in “S.” A college romance, a Kafkaesque narrative with hints of Vonnegut, a “romance of letters” between people who never met in real life, and a minor literary thriller: these have all been done before, and done far better than they are in this book.

It was not immediately clear that these stories are not interesting, because for a while I was so caught up in the form I didn’t notice. It’s a little like reading a comic book in that the eye is forced to rove. Triggers and hints at what direction you should be looking, and what you should be reading at what time, are carefully coded into the text. It takes a serious effort just to read the damn thing, much less to dig into the story.

The problem is that the thrill of reading in a new way does, in fact, wear off. And at that point, I remembered what I liked about most of the other novels I’ve ever read: the damn story. And the story in here is full of unbelievable characters, the worst being an incredibly grating 22-year-old girl’s cliched preoccupations scrawled in the margins. The narratives themselves are interesting only for their form, the way the authors have woven them together–not for the stories themselves.

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