Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Sentiment Versus Art

I do apologize, noble readers, for the lags in air time on Thinkulous lately. I've been swamped in training week and the first week of a new job. It's been very interesting and extremely tiring. Add wedding planning to the mix (and a couple of other logistical flare-ups in our lives), and you have the infrequent posting habits of late.

I did finish Gilead (previous posts here) and was richly rewarded for my efforts. I debated with myself long and hard whether this book was sentimental -- a damning term in my family's cultural lexicon. I've decided it's not. That term, in my mind, refers to a work that evokes emotion in order to make the reader (viewer, listener, etc.) feel s/he has witnessed something powerful. Usually, the emotion is pleasant, but it doesn't have to be. Sentiment, in this sense, carries connotations of crassness, lack of subtlety. Hallmark movies. Etcetera.

Gilead did indeed invoke a lot of emotion at a few key points (though far more often, it provoked deep intellectual musings). But the feelings were complex, and they were a product of a believable character and an authentic story line. Sentiment is manufactured. Genuine emotion is evoked through artistic quality that powerfully reflects some part of my experience of life -- and often offers some new insight into that experience.

Gilead starts out looking like it's headed for sentiment. It ends up firmly in the camp of high quality literature. It does this without giving in to the modern novelist's greatest crutches -- far more prevalent and pernicious these days than sentiment, in my view: Depressive pessimism or excess irony.

It's a warm, affirming novel that faces, struggles with, and ultimately embraces the ugly points of life. Don't miss it.

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