As I have mentioned before, sometimes a book will pop up and then seem to be everywhere. That’s the case with Memorial, by Bruce Wagner, which came out in October. It’s the story of a modern L.A. family, described on Amazon as follows:
Marjorie Herlihy, recently widowed from her second husband and unquestionably decent, lives alone in the suburbs just a few miles (but many worlds) away from her two grown children. She buys lottery tickets and dreams of visiting India. Daughter Joan, an architect consumed by jealousy of celebrity architects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, likes to binge on self doubt. Joan’s brother, Chester, is a 41-year-old location scout living hand-to-mouth in a West Hollywood garage apartment owned by the late Don Knotts’s daughter. (No showbizzy detail is too picayune for Wagner). Chester self-medicates, drives a Taurus with 283,000 miles on it and tells himself that he’s on the road to becoming a producer. All three pause to wonder, from time to time, whatever became of Ray, the husband and father who walked out of their lives more than 30 years ago without saying goodbye.
According to The New Yorker, “Wagner sets up a delicate structural plan that mimics the family’s progression from estrangement to a kind of intimacy. He comes close to overwhelming his characters with his own inimitable, trivia-dense voice, but ultimately he creates a tender vision of modern life, one in which preoccupations with popular culture are an imperfect carapace for the vulnerable hearts underneath.”
[OK, this is why I don’t read The New Yorker that often — I hate having to look up words when I am reading magazines. I don’t have time for that, and it makes me feel dumb. A “carapace” is a “a bony or chitinous shield, test, or shell covering some or all of the dorsal part of an animal, as of a turtle.” Whatever.]
Entertainment Weekly (subscription may be required) gave the book an A-, with the following review:
For over a decade, Bruce Wagner’s novels have cast a scathing gaze on Hollywood. Though Memorial is set in L.A., Wagner turns his scalpel-sharp attention to such disparate arenas as India, celebrity architecture, luxury pet hospitals, and ambush reality TV. In relating the stories of long-divorced parents and their two grown kids (including an architect competing for a memorial to the 2004 tsunami), Wagner brings out fresh insights into human frailty while his prose still coruscates with of-the-instant pop-culturisms. Alas, some of his targets are too rarefied (architects Zaha Hadid and Thom Mayne) or squishy-soft (Larry King) to draw any real blood.
Fictionwise says: “Deeply compassionate and violently irreverent, Memorial is a testament to faith and forgiveness, and a luminous tribute to spirituality in the twenty-first century. With an unflagging eye on a society ruptured by natural and unnatural disaster, and an insatiable love for humanity, Wagner delivers a masterpiece.” Sharkforum calls Memorial one of the two or three best novels of the last five years (!), “a towering achievement on almost every level: emotional, linguistic, political and spiritual. Wagner is writing at an altitude which will make many readers gasp and others feel truly high.” Wow, that is high praise.
I can’t decide if I want to read this or not. It seems a little dark, almost violent at times… but I am intrigued by the descriptions of modern life and pop culture, as well as the redemption of this initially distant family.
Has anyone read Memorial?