Sunday, February 8, 2015

Character or Author?

"A little over a year later, in a grubby cafe not far from the Gare du Nord, with a plate of highly suspect celeriac before her and a very heavy backpack at her feet and a heart - not to put too fine a point on it - newly rent to howling shreds, Portia realized that she was pregnant."   - Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I struggled through this novel, trying to get on board with Portia. I wondered if my issue was with Portia or Korelitz's writing style.

The novel uses the third person. The narrative is tightly aligned with only Portia, and effectively
becomes first person. During occurrences of backstory, I assumed we were in Portia's mind. Remembering past events and emotions through her filter, rather than getting them directly from Korelitz.

But something hindered my interest. Portia came across as cold, too clever. A bit pretentious, self-absorbed.

Maybe we're not meant to like Portia. We spend a lot of time learning that in her adult life, Portia has never let anyone get too close to her. She's buried a significant life decision deep within her past, doing everything to avoid further examining or acknowledging that choice. Perhaps Korelitz specifically created Porita with the intent of keeping the reader at arm's length - the same way Portia has maintained a distance from her own self and other characters in the novel. This distance keeps Portia from transcending beyond a character to a seemingly"real" person.

The novel was turned into a movie,  starring 
Tina Fey as Portia.  I've never seen the movie,  
but knew it existed when I started the book. 
I kept picturing Tina Fey as Portia in my head. 
Since I never really warmed up to Portia, 
I felt like it started to influence my feelings
about Tina Fey, too!
Purposeful character construction aside, I wondered if Korelitz's narrative voice was too noticeable. In the sentence above, "not to put too fine a point on it" sticks out to me. Is this supposed to be Portia's observation, or is Korelitz speaking directly to the reader? Perhaps Korelitz chose these words for Portia, as part of her characterization. If so, could Portia be that objective about her own past, able to acknowledge - yet still lean into - her inclination for melodrama?

If Korelitz is speaking directly to the reader here - removing the filter of Portia's character - perhaps Korelitz is winking at the kind of person Portia represents. Maybe even poking fun at her own narrative decision, her own inclination to overly describe Portia's heart as being "newly rent to howling shreds."

Maybe this is Portia's voice, maybe it belongs only to Jean Hanff Korelitz. Regardless of the source, I was never fully swept up by this novel. Great care is taken to construct the novel and its plot, but I had a hard time finding a deeper connection within the architecture.