Thursday, January 6, 2011
The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway
Settings: Pittsburgh, 1960s-1970s; New York City, 1960s-2002; Paris, 1840s-1870s; Vienna, 1860s; Munich, 1865
Stereotypes: Women can't have a career and/or follow their dreams and have children (or even meaningful relationships); quitting your job is the only way to escape the existential malaise of modern life; casual sex and drug use is totally normal; school sucks.
Major likes: I think Gallaway has a good writing style; I really enjoyed the historic sections.
Major dislikes: Incest; too many "stories" going on; there is really no plot.
Musical notes: "Firework," by Katy Perry. The line about a plastic bag is actually in the book!
Tristan and Isolde is this really great opera about love and death, which all the characters in the book either sing in or see, and then they all either love or die. Coincidence???
This novel is very difficult to summarize because there are a billion different characters (actually just four main ones--JUST. Haha!), and for three of them we're told their entire life story. You're got Martin and Maria, who both grow up in 1970s Pittsburgh and then move to NYC; Anna, who's an operatic diva; and this Lucien character, who sings in the first production of Tristan and Isolde. Like sand through an hourglass, these are the days of their lives.
This was a very difficult book to get into, mainly because it's way too jumpy. Gallaway is a good writer, but every time he switched from one character's story to another's--which was every 5 pages--I was jerked out of the story. And when I say story, I actually use that word very loosely, because this book has no plot. All the characters are connected, but we get no clue as to how until about 150 pages in. Even knowing how they are connected, their stories don't feel interconnected except in the most distant way because they still spend almost no time together to speak of.
My two favorite "lives" were Maria and Lucien, mainly because I can sympathize with really hating school. I also really liked how Maria and Lucien's stories show the importance of parental support in the developing of a child's artistic talent--artistic geniuses are often presented as simply being born with talent, but there's usually a parent behind that talent who made sacrifices to support it. As soon as Maria moved to New York City, however, I felt like she became a caricature. We got a bunch of details about her sex life, yet next to zero info on how she must have busted her ass to be successful in her career; that was awesome (feel free to read that sarcastically). It's nice to know that whatever a woman accomplishes in her life, she's always just a walking vagina.
As I read this book, I began to wonder what Gallaway's purpose in writing it was. It definitely wasn't to entertain, because in all honesty it's not entertaining. And I don't think it was to teach us anything about opera or music, because despite the blurb on the cover, Tristan and Isolde, and music in general, has very little to do with the entire book. At first I thought he wanted to write a truly transformative piece of art wherein one would find the "opus metaphysicum of all art," as Nietzsche said about Tristan and Isolde (according to Wikipedia); however, upon further thought I decided Gallaway wanted to write something that would mark "the end of all romanticism," which is how Richard Strauss characterized T&I in his more forgiving moments. If that's the case I would have to say Gallaway succeeded to a certain extent.
This book is very unromantic. There is an argument against the existence of God, and the characters live an Albert Camus-esque existence in which moral behavior falls to the impulses of the individual, which are primarily indulged. Like Meursault with Marie, the characters may "fall in love," but these relationships seem underpinned by little more than sexual attraction, if that (none of the men Maria sleeps with are described in attractive terms); they don't seem to connect except in the most shallow way. Even grief is called the grief for oneself, rather than for the person who died--in other words, all human actions and emotions are selfish. As a result, the character's crying and carrying on when someone breaks up with them or someone dies seemed histrionic rather than genuine, and I had no patience with it.
I think this confusion between an existential nihilism on the part of the author and the desire to write something grand and operatic is the linchpin problem in this novel. If all we're about is ourselves unto ourselves, then why should I care about death or tragedy? These characters, I would argue, don't care and don't love, but they don't realize it. When they try to connect to people or act as if they care, they feel like they're going through the motions; it's only when they're gripped in the malaise of boredom and total apathy that the book has a ring of authenticity.
I don't think I can recommend this novel; but then, I've always been more of the Claude Debussy persuasion (and definitely not nihilistic). I think I can see what Gallaway was trying to accomplish with the book, but for me he fell short of pulling it together. I would still like to thank TLC Book Tours for giving me a chance to review this book, though!
I didn't enjoy this book, but you might. If it sounds interesting to you, enter the giveaway to win a copy from the publisher:
This work by Tasha B. at Truth Beauty Freedom and Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.