Earlier this week I mentioned that I’d seen a complaint in an Amazon review about the repetitiveness of certain themes in The Collected Works of Deborah Eisenberg. While those particular repetitions don’t bother me, I said that the endings of some of Ann Beattie’s stories feel repetitive, and therefore less magical, for me.
The Guardian book club is currently reading The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore, and it seems these same concerns are popping up for at least one of their readers. Earlier this month, Sam Jordison, wrote:
“Reading all these stories consecutively makes you additionally conscious of their repetitive themes and self-conscious cleverness. Or am I being unfair…
…These tales of struggle and disappointment in the American midwest are undeniably vivid and most of the characters and scenarios convincingly ordinary. And yet, reading this long book of short stories in a hurry – as I have – becomes awkward. It starts to feel like the literary equivalent of the outsize chocolate bar: invigorating in small quantities, but in excess, sickly and overwhelming. There’s a monotony of tone and theme. There’s hardly a story here where someone doesn’t get cancer (it’s always cancer) and/or lose a baby and/or lose a boyfriend. The pain is all too predictable. It starts to feel unreal.”
Jordison has a lot of compliments for Moore, so it’s not as if he’s dismissing her. I think he poses his concerns honestly and respectfully. (It’s worth reading readers’ comments – there’s a lot going on there.)
What’s the deal? Is there any writer who’s consistently original, subtle and daring enough that her work doesn’t feel redundant when, toward the middle/end of her career, it’s placed next to each other? Who can stand up to that kind of scrutiny? And at what point do the very things we relish in a writer become just too much? It is possible that too much of a good thing is…too much of a good thing, and the point is moderation? Don’t devour it all at once, you gluttonous pigs!