1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It has some moments of local color, but...,
This review is from: In America: A Novel (Paperback)In America intends to be an "important" act of "literature." It is not. It is not even a good read. In the whole story of Maryna Zalezowska, a Polish actress who emigrates to America with a horde of friends and admirers, fails to found a commune farm, and returns to success on the stage, the only remotely memorable moments are snapshots of local color that are almost digressions from the story itself.
The account of two of the characters' sea passage across the Atlantic, focusing on the contrast between their first-class accommodations and those in steerage, actually is touching. There are descriptions of 19th century New York, early Anaheim, and Comstock Lode silver mining towns that might make a die-hard jingoist shed a tear, not because they are flattering of America, but just because they portray her painted large in all the false glory of the gilded age. The last chapter, a long, rambling, almost humorous monologue by Edwin Booth as he half-heartedly tries to seduce the protagonist by telling her how pathetic a person he is, is worth reading (or maybe that was only my impression because it was the end of the book).
But these highlights are actually digressions from the story itself. The real story, revolves around Maryna, who is terribly uninteresting. She possesses a self-centeredness that enables her to do whatever she wants and entrain those around her in her wake, but when one looks closer to see what aspects of her character this self-centeredness might stem from, there is nothing. No innate charisma beyond being a beautiful woman, no grand ideas other than those lifted wholesale from 19th century French social theorists, no traits of human mobility, as if a present-day purveyor of postmodern literature could condescend to believe in such a thing. By authorial fiat, Maryna is the center of her world, but she lacks the attributes that might enable her to be the center of the reader's.
Since Maryna must be the focal point of the book, on several times another character's subplot is developed just to the point of becoming interesting, only to be promptly aborted. One couple in the commune, Julian and Wanda, have latent marital problems that America brings into much clearer focus. Wanda makes a suicide attempt, and then the characters are shipped back to Poland and mostly forgotten about. Maryna begins an affair with her persistent admirer Ryszard. It turns stale and ends. We discover Maryna's husband Bogdan is sexually attracted to the Mexican farmhands in Anaheim, but this goes nowhere as it is immaterial to Maryna's career, and by extension the book. Basically, the whole novel revolves around an innately uninteresting person, and all other characters must become even more completely two-dimensional to avoid supplanting her.
In America contains nothing worth caring about. It contains a few digressions that aren't enslaved to Maryna's story, and in these digressions, Sontag shows she is capable of writing a much better book. However, she did not do so.