Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas

The only reason I read Mark Sarvas’s debut novel, Harry, Revised, was because I enjoy his literary blog, The Elegant Variation. I found it to be a fairly good novel, but it seemed easy to discern that it was his first. Though I doubt my ability to judge fairly because of the circumstances under which I became aware of it, I nevertheless found it to be enjoyable.

Harry Rent is a recent widower who is smitten by a young waitress. He attempts to win her by manipulati
ng her life as well as others, all the while trying to deal (or rather not to deal) with the death of his wife. The plot suffers from being a bit too earnest, and though I am glad Sarvas didn’t cheat the ending, I never really doubted where Harry would end up in the end.

Someone dies, and the survivor goes through the stages of grief throughout the story. He denies his feelings, he is angry with himself, feels guilty about his anger, etc. It’s a worn trope. So what does Sarvas bring to the table to compensate?

The book is pretty funny, both with regards to narration and the absurd situations in which Harry finds h
imself. The characterization makes all the prominent characters well drawn, save Harry’s in-laws who seem to be stereotypes. And at times I was personally affected by the Harry’s dilemma. Though I haven’t had the analogous situation in my own life, much of the emotion rendered carried a sense of verisimilitude that made empathizing come rater easily, at least for me.

Though humorous, the narrative is a little clunky, especially at first. As to whether I adapted as I went on or it got better, I am unsure. And word choice was at times quite perplexing. Why use a five-syllable word that will send readers to a dictionary when a more common word would do? The point of view is third person limited, through Harry, and as he is described, one wouldn’t expect to hear such words out of Harry.

I would be remiss not to mention the Marxist overtones. Harry is a fairly successful doctor, but his wife is from ‘old money.’ His inability to fit into that world make up a lot of the plot, while he drives a Jaguar up to the crappy little restaurant/diner where he interacts with the object of his affection and another waitress. This other waitress is very poor, behind on all her bills, and has a son ‘in the system.’ Though the idea of class runs throughout the novel, Sarvas never really makes any lasting comment on society. Almost as if it just worked as a device for his plot and he never really gave it a second thought.

Despite its flaws, I found Harry, Revised to be an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, which all in all was the real reason I picked up the book. I’ll be interested to see where Sarvas goes in the future.

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