Sunday, February 16, 2014

Now I am on page 192 in Sex is Forbidden by Tim Parks.  I'm through the Middle.  And I have had the feeling for the past thirty or so pages that the Middle has been too long, too much Middle.

Will Beth accept and practice all the teachings of Dasgupta Institute, Buddhist practice and that way of dealing with life, or will she not?  Same question more or less for the older guy she has been stalking by reading his diary, GH.  We don't quite know his real name yet.  We have gotten more of her story and more of his story.  Both are going back and forth, back and forth, trying to decide, trying to find out, if they can really buy into, achieve, the teachings of the Buddhist practice preached in this ten day retreat.

My experience of the book has been ruined, of course, somewhat, by the fact that I read a little bit about it before I started it.  But it was that prior attention that made me decide to give it a look in the first place.  Parks has made some new statement in his life's work, or some Turn in his interpretation, his attitude, toward what stances he wants to take towards all of these big questions in life.  But the book now feels like it is trying too hard to dramatize the back and forth of indecision, of the confusions experienced in all such retreats and meditative withdrawals from ordinary life.  What we have underscored is the fact that we are reading, after all, a sort of tract or pamphlet and not so much a novel as we want to think we enjoy novels.  We are in the midst of a teaching fable, a novel-like koan, another imitation of one of the Buddha's teaching tales, or even those of Jesus.  We are being made to think, to search for meaning just as the characters themselves are searching for meaning, but we're more clear now that they are not characters but aspects of our own minds, our own selves, of EverySelf.  Beth, GH, woman, man, lives messed up, mid-way into their own trajectories, we are deep into spiritual reading, or what is a simulacrum of such for hip contemporary readers, but as lively as the writing is, as clever and with-it the descriptions of ashram detail and as inventive the life stories are, we feel delayed and blocked with each passing page.  Was this really the best way to present all of this?  Why not have started with the new position rather than re-enact the discovery of it, the journey of it?  However Parks in real life did go through major phases, major changes of view, can he effectively capture that in the style of this kind of fictional re-telling?  I am much more skeptical than I was at the outset, and I don't think that is what he wanted from me by the time I've gotten to this stage of the book.

About seventy-five pages to go.  I will enjoy them, the book is a pleasure, but will I smile in utter admiration.  I don't think so.  Come on, Tim, surprise me.

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