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Enon by Paul Harding
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I'm familiar with experiencing personal, heart rending loss, but less familiar with allowing that to let oneself fall into a terrible downward spiral that is this novel's main line. This book was a hard read. Perhaps that speaks to the writer's skill and integrity. Harding is a master with word choice, with verbs that pick and poke and stick, with lengthy, exploratory sentences, with a page or two trailing into dense and detailed imagining. Still this was a hard book to read. The downward spiral seemed of infinite depth, much of it anchored in life of the mind, imagination, dream, hallucination, drugs, and addiction. At times I was anxious to get back to some facts, some open-eyed, in the daylight events, to have the story move forward. I even skimmed through some of the lengthy hallucinatory pages, and considered putting the book down long before finishing. But the book never lost touch with its center. I was happy that I stuck it out. But this book was a hard read. ( )
1 vote jkennedybalto | Dec 20, 2014 |
This is a beautiful tale of the process of grief. ( )
  elizabeth.b.bevins | Nov 4, 2014 |
In my opinion this novel suffers from Post-Pulitzer Syndrome. The author won the Pulitzer prize for his previous work, Tinkers, which was quite a good book. Clearly the publisher saw the $$ signs light up and knew what "Pulitzer Prize winning author" on the cover does for a book sales and they got this into print as soon as possible, despite the fact that about 50% of it is complete rubbish. Harding even included a couple of characters from Tinkers to help trade on the success of his first work. Any book editor worth his/her salt should have excised vast proportions of this manuscript but clearly Mr Harding had the credentials to push it though and the profit-driven executives at Random House just wanted any Harding book on the shelves.

Unfortunately for me, the worst part of the book comes after the first 50 pages. If I had started with the rubbish part I would have invoked the Nancy Pearl rule and returned it to the library mostly unread. I was already committed, however, by the time the writing turned to mush and I felt I ought to keep reading to the bitter end. Sorry Paul, you're crossed off my list. I suggest you go back to playing the drums. ( )
  oldblack | Oct 9, 2014 |
This novel is the story of Charlie Crosby, who turns out to be the grandson of the protagonist in Harding's previous and wonderful novel, Thinkers. The first third of the book was very engaging and enjoyable, then the middle section wasn't as much of either, and, then, Harding redeemed himself in the last third of the book. The ending worked for me, but the book didn’t measure up highly for me. ( )
  jphamilton | Jul 27, 2014 |
I should preface this review by saying that I have not read Paul Harding’s novel Tinkers, a novel that was much praised and even earned him the Pulitzer Prize. Having read Harding’s work back to front, then, as it were, I can only offer an opinion on Enon; while others below have situated the new novel in terms of his prior work—and most virtually unanimous in stating the follow-up is far inferior to his previous novel—I can only speak of Enon, and so of Enon I shall speak.

I am led to believe that Enon is an amalgamate New England town that served as the locale for Tinkers, just as it does in Enon; I am also led to believe that Harding has expanded on some of the characterizations and townsfolk in his second novel, focusing on Charles Crosby grandson of the clock repairman protagonist of Tinkers. In this way, one would expect a coherence to exist between the two novels, something akin to Faulkner—to whom Harding appears to be indebted, although his prose is not singular enough to have a style of its own with influences evident or surmised—where the town becomes the major character around which people, families, and lovers enact a kind of mise en abyme, the mirror reflecting outward from the text toward society at large.

Characters, in novels like these, tend toward the caricaturesque or allegorical; the town is the vehicle by which the author examines social and cultural questions, and, most importantly, how these affect the individuals living within them. As Crosby notes in the first-third of Enon: There are certainly more citizens of Enon beneath its fifty-four hundred acres than there are above it. Just beneath our feet, on the other side of the surface of the earth, there is another, subterranean Enon, which conceals its secret business by conducting it too slowly for its purposes to be observed by the living.And, since Crosby has just lost his thirteen-year-old daughter, Kate, he locates her in this “subterranean Enon” and positions himself as the storyteller who can uncover the “secret business” of this hidden terrain.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to judge a work based on preconceived notions of genre, or even conservative of me to assume that an author must adhere to the conventions within which his work appears to be operating, as Harding’s does here. However, while my own reading tastes are far from the conventional, and while I very much admire authors who can utilize conventions to their own ends, bringing their own voice and style to bear on age-old themes in new ways, I don’t feel that Enon offers anything new whatsoever.

There are numerous novels about love; there are numerous novels about death and dying. Should these topics and themes be thrown into the dustbin, rendered moot because they’ve been written to death? Of course not. These are major experiences that cause us to consider our lives and our interrelation with others; these are philosophical and phenomenological questions to which there will never be any answers. 

With that said, if an author does choose to work with such trued-and-true themes, said author must inject something new: this can be by means of style, voice, point-of-view, or something entirely different. To return to Faulkner, whom I mentioned earlier, his examinations of cultural and national guilt, both at the civic level and at the level of intimacy, have been themes touched upon by writers such as Hawthorne, Flaubert, Kafka, James, et al. But Faulkner injects his own personal voice and style: his writing is the “subject matter” and his subject matter is the “convention” against which he is writing, making new forms fit older questions, creating new questions out of linguistic and stylistic innovations—run-on sentences and all.

To return to Harding’s Enon, a catchy title for a town which, of course, a clever palindrome for “none,” the very name itself is overvalued in the Lacanian sense: it requires a deeper interrogation of why this allegorical place is both somewhere and nowhere which never seems to occur. (It also carries with it biblical reverberations and allusions to baptism, again an interesting connection, but one that is not explored here in the depth it deserves, not even in a metaphorical sense.) True, Harding’s traumatized and grieving narrator, Crosby, exists in this sort of liminal no-man’s-land where life is at the same time something (in his memories of his daughter before her untimely death) and nothing (in his moments of despair, despondency, and drug-induced hallucinatory scenes which he relies upon as a coping mechanism).

Harding wants the town to be both allegorical and real, but he wants his characters to be real—and there is a problem with this, especially in Enon where Crosby’s character is not fully fleshed out until toward the middle of the novel. If the reader is expected to empathize with this man who loses his daughter on the first page of the novel, the mishandled and haphazard use of allegory/realism inherent in Harding’s structure—let me rephrase, lack of structure—cause the reader to instead loathe a narrator whose likeability is the very crux of the novel itself. Harding wants the reader to follow Crosby on his grief-stricken journey; Harding wants the reader to mourn the ephemeral nature of life along with Crosby. Instead, though, what happens is that a distance is erected right from the beginning between town/characters and reader due to the very issues which I have attempted to outline above.

To be sure, Harding’s novel is very much in the mode of the memento mori, and many readers are appealed to these sorts of novels so that they might learn something about the dying or grieving process, or else so that they might instead act as a voyeur and watch someone else dying or grieving (the it’s-not-me-today argument). It is worth noting that both of these reading perspectives are rooted in narcissism, but this is a drive that Enon rebukes continuously.

I began this novel with high hopes, largely due to the fact that friends of mine on here whose opinions I have long valued rated it highly; however, I think that I have discerned where the problem lies—or, I should say, where my problem lies. A bit of scouring, and it seems that those who rated Enon highly are those who also rated Marilynne Robinson Gilead highly, a novel that I loathed. And why did I loathe Gilead? For exactly the same reasons I have outlined in my review here. Coincidentally, Robinson was also Harding’s teacher at Skidmore.

While the genre of the memento mori, albeit stretched in both cases, has existed ad infinitum, neither novel lends anything new. Instead, both are structurally built around a flimsy premise—the dying man remembering everything so that his son can remember him; the living man who remembers his life and his town and his family because his daughter has died so suddenly and so very young. Death is not flimsy, of course, but as a plot conceit it is in both cases: it is merely the vehicle that allows each respective narrator to meander in what attempts to be stream-of-consciousness, as, in “precious” prose they recall their lives, family members, exploits, losses, and so on. As such, death is not the topic while both authors appear to be claiming that it is: it is simply the launching pad.

Bad reviews are often the lengthiest and hardest ones to write, in order to foreground and demonstrate why a novel doesn’t work, what is flawed about it, how it fails to deliver, etc. But what is often longer are works like Enon which should have perhaps been relegated to a short story rather than a full-fledged novel. As I began with Faulkner, perhaps it’s fitting that I close with him: his brand of stream-of-consciousness is just that, an attempt to suss out how a mind works in relation to external circumstances. Some reviews of Enon below have touched on Harding’s apparent use of stream-of-consciousness, but, for this fan of Proust and nearly all the modernists, I failed to see these as anything by run-on sentences—which, to be fair, have their use (the final section of Joyce’s Ulysses is the most devastating piece of writing of the last one-hundred-and-fifty years). 

But read the following example of Harding’s “stream-of-consciousness” (plucked at random, Crosby recalling spending time with Kate while she was alive), and answer for yourself if this indicates a stylistically innovation way of approaching the subject matter or if Harding was merely in need of some rounds of editing with which his publishers failed to provide him:We’d sit and recline next to each other and the shadows would advance over our heads like a canopy and clouds would spread out over the sky from the west and Kate would braid stalks of grass and I’d watch the sky and point out the evening star and the crescent moon as it arced up from behind the dark firs and the bats would begin fluttering after insects and we’d each take one last sip of the last of the water in the canteen, tepid and metallic, holding some of the day’s earlier heat in it, and we’d cool off and rest a little beneath the wide pavilion of night before setting out for home.

Your decision to the above question should, in all truth, let you know straightaway whether Enon is for you or whether it is simply a waste of your time. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
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Most men in my family make widows of their wives and orphans of their children.
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Powerful, brilliantly written, and deeply moving Paul Harding has, in Enon, written a worthy successor to Tinkers, a debut which John Freeman on NPR called "a masterpiece." Drawn always to the rich landscape of his character's inner lives, here, through the first person narrative of Charlie Crosby (grandson to George Crosby of Tinkers), Harding creates a devastating portrait of a father trying desperately to come to terms with family loss.
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A grieving Charlie Crosby (grandson of Tinkers protagonist George Washington Crosby) attempts to come to terms with the death of his daughter, Kate, and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage.

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