This Old Man (★★★☆☆)

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Roger Angell  *  Doubleday  *  November 17, 2015  *  320 Pages

I wasn’t familiar with Angell’s work before reading this collection of his stories and essays. I’ve since learned that he wrote for The New Yorker often (and still contributes somewhat, though he’s 95). He has a huge fan base and is seen by many as a national treasure, of sorts.

So I have a feeling some people aren’t going to like it when I say that this book is…well…fine. Some stories I enjoyed: Over the Wall, Storyville, and This Old Man (the essay after which the book is named)–in other words, the ones where Angell gets personal. I wish I could further describe these gems as unflinchingly honest or raw, but, sadly, they just aren’t.

And, ultimately, I think that’s why I didn’t care for Angell’s writing. He is always, always restrained and drearily polite. He talks about feelings the way people who don’t really talk about their feelings talk about their feelings. Over and over again, from subject to subject, he is muted, civil, considerate, soft. Oh, how these polite confessions bored me. So many times I mentally shrieked at him, “I get it, Angell! You are the gentleman’s writer. But c’mon: reveal yourself, man! Or please, dear God, stop trying.”

I did finish the book, though. And while there is no denying Angell’s writing ability–or even his easy accessibility and appeal to many readers–I just can’t forgive that he barely made me FEEL anything. What is the point of reading (or writing, for that matter) something so, so reserved? I wanted more, you know? Give me the whole enchilada, or don’t bother coming to dinner.

3 thoughts

  1. A curious aside: When Charlotte Bronte was trying to publish Jane Eyre, an editor suggested that she “write with more restraint, like Miss Austen.” Bronte, though, found Austen’s world utterly lacking in passion; thus, we have the wonderful foils of Bronte’s romantic passion and Austen’s wry social satire and impeccable style.

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  2. Ha, yeah well, I guess we all have different “needs” when it comes to reading and writing. I suppose, as a writer, you can’t please everyone–but you’re bound to please someone! Thank goodness for variety.

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