One of my goals for this year is to have a reading group again. I miss my New York group, and it seems to me that there are plenty of people who want to read literary fiction in this area, so I've begun to ask people to participate. I reconnected with former classmates on FaceBook, and two of them are game. We decided to start with a Booker Prize winner and narrowed it down to Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.* I read it on my flight to Albuquerque and could not put it down. I think it is an excellent first read for our little band.
David Lurie, a professor and perv of sorts, is the protagonist. The story opens with his getting his sexual satisfaction from an exotic call girl, a woman he's used long enough to wonder if she's starting to have feelings for him. This liason crashes to a halt when he glimpses her with her children in public. Eventually, Lurie is told she's left the agency, and he has to find another outlet. Before long he targets Melanie, a student. She is less than thrilled about his attentions, but can't stay away from him. The discomfort of the situation permeates the page. The reader is left to squirm throughout this section of the novel, which is told in third person, close to Lurie. Melanie skips class more than she attends, Lurie passes her on an exam she doesn't take, and the reader is left to wonder how Lurie can think their encounters were welcome when the sex scenes point to rape. Melanie brings charges, and Lurie leaves the college angry and indignant.
And the story isn't even really started yet. Lurie moves in with his daughter on her farm and begins another relationship, one that, for a change, seems fairly appropriate. Disaster strikes. He is left on the other side of rape and must attempt to understand his daughter's reactions and demands. The reader never quite feels that Lurie connects his own sexual depravity to that inflicted on his adult child.
The narrative is in present tense, which I generally don't care for, but I think it works well in this case. Present tense is more immediate, and I believe more reflective of Lurie's mind. Coetzee's writing is rich and fun to read, even if the subject is difficult. I especially like the juxtaposition of Lurie as perpatrator and victim's father, which leads to a powerful last section.
I've got a few more books partially read, but now that I'm done with my 1% Well Read Challenge, what do you suggest I put on my book queue?
* and, hey, we share our birthdates!