Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spurious by Lars Iyer

I take pride in being smart and being talented at a lot of things. I think I realize my limitations pretty well, too, and try to avoid situations where I'm overmatched. Sometimes it can't be helped. Like I can't cut a straight line with a saw to save my life. But being a homeowner, I sometimes have to give it a shot. I've gotten better over the years. My errors are now tiny fractions instead of say, oh, a half inch or more.

I also don't get philosophical talk and books about it. I remember in college I took a philosophy of religion course. In high school and college, I had an interest in religions/cults. Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Scientology, Baba Ram Dass, Zoroastrianism. You name it, I had read about it. So I thought I would do well in this philosophy course.

There were several upperclassmen philosophy majors in this class with whom I played ping pong (this was an after dinner routine in college for my roommate and I) that I knew to be savvy guys. The first day of class I walked in late (because I was walking a girl to her class). I sit down and the professor says, "You must be Mad Guru (he used my actual name)". I say, "Oh man, I must be the last one here if you know my name". "You think that because I know your name you must be the last student here"? "Well, at least the last male student". The ping pong guys start oohing and ahhing at my logical skills. The professor commends me. I'm feeling good. It all went downhill from there.

I didn't understand a thing the rest of the semester. The readings made no sense to me. I went in for help and it didn't make a difference. I wrote a paper that involved a belief in Santa Claus (I couldn't tell you where I was going with it) and my professor ultimately, charitably, gave me a D+. Just an awful, awful, awful, awful experience. This happened during what, to that point, was arguably the most awful, awful, awful time of my life, even despite the ping pong. Not good times.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Now I'm trying to understand Lars Iyer's book, Spurious. I've read reviews talking about how hysterically funny it is. Melville House Books, perhaps my favorite publishing company, published the book. I thought it would be great. If it is, I didn't get it.

The narrator, named Lars, has a friend who is much like Lars, only a little better. At least the friend seems to think so. He delights in telling Lars everything that is wrong with him when, for almost every stone cast, the friend is just as guilty of the sin. The book is almost entirely conversation between the two with Lars' friend belittling Lars. Occasionally we get to witness Lars' apartment and the ever-growing mold that pervades the place.

There's philosophical talk, mostly because the pair are either philosophy professors, literature professors, or both (I found it hard to tell). The "wit", outside of the friend's hypocrisy, includes things like the friend reading philosophical books that are heavy in mathematics in their original language despite not knowing math or how to read the foreign language. A laugh riot, I know.

I just didn't get it. There was no point. There's no plot, no story. It's a philosophical question as to why this book exists. Worse, Melville House published the sequel recently which I will certainly not read.

I'm giving it zero stars just because I think that perhaps I'm at fault. That it isn't the book that is lacking, but my ability to understand the book. Maybe it truly is terrible but I've seen enough good reviews to think that maybe it's just me.