Stone Arabia/Dana Spiotta: The Book of This Year?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let me call this one as I think it rightly is: You might be headed to the BEA next week in search of the Book of the Year, the Big One, the Ultimate Prize Winner. You may imagine yourself wending down and through those Javits Center aisles, your shoulder a book-bag-burdened sloop, your ears somewhere between burn and buzz, the whole of your senses gone hyperkinetic as you pile on the galleys and pack in the giveaways and assure yourself that somewhere, inside all that brilliant literary mayhem, is the Best Book of This Year.

But unless you somehow find yourself a copy of Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia (and at the moment copies are scarce) you are (I am sorry to report) not in possession of this year's best. You may just have to wait until July 12, when this slender volume sets sail.

Because maybe Jennifer Egan and her music-saturated, technically daring Goon Squad captured our imaginations in 2010. But Dana Spiotta, with her own lyric-besotted, indie-spirited Stone Arabia (Scribner), does something different, something more. It's a book about losing, fudging, and outfoxing memory. It's about a brother and a sister in their reeling mid-lives—that brother's life as an almost-musician, that sister's lonesome, fated love.  It's about the anomie of living right now—when the news affronts and hallows, and the tragedies of perfect strangers make us cry, and we lose ourselves within the portals of internet knowing and emerge merely more lost and a lot less knowing. (It's also, in small part, a calibrated riff on our blogging culture, but I only smiled, took no offense.)

We are a half step from forgetting, Spiotta reminds us, and we are a half step from being forgotten, but we are not vanished yet. We still have it in our power to live beyond the authoritative record, to tinker with our own legacies. The brilliance of Stone Arabia is matched by its beauty, which is to say that this is a fiercely intelligent book and also (importantly) an utterly humane one.

A personal note: I found Lightning Field, Dana Spiotta's gorgeous first novel, in a bookstore and brought it home a decade ago. Soon enough, Spiotta's second novel, Eat the Document, was nominated for the National Book Award. From time to time, then, in conversations with other writers, I would hear about Spiotta's graces as a person—her unshowy intelligence and big heart noted by writers like Rick Moody and Ken Kalfus.  Her university workshop students seem to love her, too; I've heard a fine tale or two about that.

But none of what I thought I knew prepared me for the power of Stone Arabia.  I hate that it's late May and that you'll therefore have to wait until mid-July to read it.

Read it, though, as soon as you can.


Julie P. said...

I doubt I'll get a copy but I'll be sure to read it when it comes out!

Wendy said...

Ooooh, sounds wonderful. I enjoyed Eat the Document. Will have to be on the lookout for this one :)

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