Aug. 11th, 2014

leaflitter: Leaf litter (Default)
Apparently the reason it took me three years to review REAMDE was that I needed time to entirely forget that I'd read Abigail Nussbaum's excellent review:
What Stephenson is doing is trying to depict competence as a function of character. When really it's almost always a situational trait--a person may be extraordinarily competent in one setting and helpless in another, may have a firm grasp of their situation in one instance, and a completely unrealistic confidence in their abilities in another. Reamde, which valorizes confidence and the general competence that has been a hallmark of, yes, masculinity, in all of Stephenson's novels, doesn't quite know what to do when that confidence turns out to have been unfounded. In Peter's case, its response is to decide that he must not have been terribly masculine--which is to say, competent, intelligent, possessed of a firm grip on reality--to begin with. But in Richard's case, Stephenson's approach is to double down, to continue to insist that Richard is, as Zula thinks of him, the epitome of masculinity, even as he piles on the evidence to the contrary.

Most of the reviews I've read of Reamde have found Richard charming or heroic, but to my mind he is one of Stephenson's most aggravating creations, if only because it's not at all clear whether we're meant to be aggravated by him. Richard is a perpetual fish out of water--a black sheep among his staid, law-abiding, Midwestern family, but too steeped in their values to fit in among West Coast liberals or his fellow board members. In another man, this perennial ambivalence might have led to humility, a willingness to see the other guy's point of view. Richard uses it as a justification for feeling superior to everyone around him--to his Red State relations and his Blue State colleagues, to the fuddy-duddy Donald and the trailer trash Devin, to the Forces of Brightness and the Earthtone Coalition, to his young, gadget- and Facebook-obsessed cousins and his old, computer-illiterate ones. It is "a belief that had been inculcated in him from the get-go," we are told, "that there was an objective reality, which all people worth talking to could observe and understand, and that there was no point in arguing about anything that could be so observed and so understood." But for Richard, that objective reality seems to mean whatever he thinks about the world…

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