Have you read Women and Men by Joseph McElroy? I have tried twice, the second time was a buddy read that should have given me the encouragement and the discussion I needed to make it through all 1192 oversized and densely printed pages. McEloy’s other novels, although slightly shorter, were also difficult, demanding reads and I got through those (well, I still have one or two to go). What is it about McElroy’s Women and Men in particular that results in so many readers abandoning his fiction.
Here is what is printed on the back cover of Women and Men:
Beginning in childbirth and entered like a multiple dwelling in motion, Women and Men embraces and anatomizes the 1970s in New York—from experiments in the chaotic relations between the sexes to the flux of the city itself. Yet through an intricate overlay of scenes, voices, fact, and myth, this expanding fiction finds its way also across continents and into earlier and future times and indeed the Earshot reveal connections between the most disparate lives and systems of feeling and power. At its breathing heart, it plots the fugue like and fiendlike densities of late-twentieth century life.
McElroy rests a global vision on two people, apartment-house neighbors who never quite meet. Except, that is, in the population of others whose histories cross theirs—believers and skeptics; lovers, friends, and hermits; children, parents, grandparents, avatars, and, apparently, angels. For Women and Men shows how the families through which we pass let one person’s experience belong to that of many, so that we throw light on each other as if these kinships were refracted lives so real as to be reincarnate.
A mirror of manners, the book is also a meditation on the languages—rich, ludicrous, exact, and also American—in which we try to grasp the world we’re in. Along the kindred axes of separation and intimacy Women and Men extends the great line of twentieth-century innovative fiction.
I haven’t added this big fat book to my current reading list but I am keeping the volume on my desk so I can fondle it and wonder if the third time will be the charm?
Who has read Joseph McElroy’s Women and Men? Who wants to take the challenge and join me in reading a truly demanding and also rewarding novel? Think of it: the human drama … the thrill of victory … perhaps the agony of defeat. I’ll schedule it for June when I’m also planning to lay around my little house doing nothing except enjoying the weather … and the alligators.
In my old group, BFB Readers, we would have assigned three months to the reading of this large novel so starting in June I would hope to be finished before the school buses clog up the streets again.
How about you? The book should be available in paper from the great Dalkey Archive Press.