THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss
Krauss’s The History of Love (2005) would have been better titled The History of Stupidity. Much as her contemporaries and congeners, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Krauss approaches her readership with contempt (i.e. a set of low expectations). Most Americans, after all, are gum-chewing television-watchers who have never picked up a book in their lives. I certainly do not believe this tiresome cliche, but the American publishing industry does. And so does Nicole Krauss.
Krauss panders. She explains everything to the reader. In the end, the reader feels insulted for being treated with such contempt. I am not fooled by the novel’s pretensions at experimentalism (this is NOT a formally challenging novel). Yes, we are presented with three interlocking narratives: one written by an old man, another written by the woman he loves, and the other by a fourteen-year-old girl. But the plot is hideously simplistic: An old man writes a book inspired by his inamorata, Alma. The book gets away from him. Alma reads the book. Fin.
Krauss has mastered the marketing strategies of her erstwhile husband, Foer, who also uses the interlocking narrative structure, a superabundance of nearly-blank pages, and narrators who are functionally illiterate. In the end, The History of Stupidity feels as if it were a self-advertisement–not so much an advertisement for the author as an advertisement for itself. Much like the object of SUV commercials, the target audience here is painfully clear: Typical Dumb Americans who find sweet old men and little girls stupidly charming. Again, it is not I who believe this tiresome cliche. It is Nicole Krauss.
Not merely is the novel infantile in terms of its form; the content is also similarly stunted.
Particularly stunning are Krauss’s scatological obsessions. I am not suggesting that should authors not take scatology as their subject (Roland Topor created a masterly play on coprophilia entitled Leonardo Was Right), nor am I attacking the book on some pseudo-moralistic, Medvedian ground. H.G. Wells assailed James Joyce (whose name is showcased, pointlessly, twice in this novel) for his so-called “cloacal obsession.” But if there is scatology in Joyce, it serves a “transcendent” purpose. In Krauss, however, the references to the excremental point to nothing other than themselves. Nothing is more infantile than gastrointestinal humor.
And so we have Leo Gursky struggling with a bowel movement on Page Fifteen, “Zvi Litnivoff” defecating on Page Sixty-Nine, and a tzaddik in an outhouse engaging in one of the “coarse miracles of life” on page 127. I could go on, but I don’t want to. Nicole Krauss seems fascinated by excrementality, which seems appropriate since her book is a steaming mound of yellow horse dung.
One last thing: If Leo Gursky has written such an important book, why are all of the passages cited halting and puerile?
What we are witnessing is the “dumbing-down” of literary fiction. We need a new constructivism (I do not use this word in its traditional sense), after three decades of infantilism in American letters.