The Recognitions


I finished The Recognitions after over a month. I'm not even sure how to approach this, there was just so much going on and it was so dense. I can't tell if I would have preferred to read this one instead of listening to it. On one hand, listening made the crazy overlapping contextless dialogue easier to follow, but on the other hand, I would have benefited from being able to go at my own pace to help digest things. I had to jump to the readers guide a few times, and the fact that there is a readers guide at all should tell you something. It's one of those books that I feel like never got to sink in.

It was almost impossible for me to identify with any characters. Most everyone is pretty awful, and the people I do end up sort of liking, are so enigmatic and distant that I can't commit any emotional investment to them. I guess Wyatt is the main character, though you don't spend that much time with him after the beginning, but I never felt like I understood him at all. Otto, who stars for most of the middle, is the most understandable, and he's ok, but he's such a Nancy. I couldn't really root for him. Stanley is the least reprehensible, but he's a pretty confusing dude as well. I was rooting for him, and wanted things to work out for him, but I also couldn't exactly get a handle on him. Other than that with a few minor exceptions, everyone else is The Worst.

This is one of those books where I'm not even sure how to say what it's about. It follows a few different characters (mostly Wyatt, Otto and Stanley) but their stories barely overlap, in fact the main thing that connects them is their increasingly complicated romantic connections with Esme, which I'm only realizing just now. I'll see if I can hook on to their individual stories. Wyatt leaves religion, to live increasingly mired in artistic forgery, until he eventually rebels against the nature of originality and thus forgery all together. Otto is a playwright desperately seeking approval and affection, earned or otherwise. Stanley is a devoutly pious man constantly beat about by the depravity of everyone surrounding him, trying to save them until eventually this starts to fray his edges.

Thematically it seems to revolve around false-ness. Lies, forgery, theft, counterfeiting, social facade, religions, espionage, false identities, mistaken identities, hidden emotions, ignored emotions, corruption, closeted sexuality, plagiarism, ETCETERA. It actually does a good job at being subtle about this over arching theme, while being outright about it's individual iterations. I somehow didn't notice the thematic similitude until I was fairly deep already.

As I mentioned before, it's very dense reading, and it deals with pretty heavy and complicated stuff most of the time, so I was a little surprised when it would get farcical at times. Or big sudden things started to happen. <spoiler>when suddenly people started dying</spoiler> My confusion was just compounded by this denseness and the sideways nature of the storytelling. Sometimes I wouldn't even understand what had actually happened until later when the book would refer back to it or when I would check the readers guide. It feels sort of like seeing things out of the corner of your eye. You can see shapes and movement and lights, but until you look directly at it, you can't exactly figure it out. You miss details you didn't know where there.