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  • Writer's pictureLelia

Ruth Ozeki's The Book of Form and Emptiness

This book was too disappointing to finish. I loved Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, so maybe my hopes were too high for this one. But I felt her attempt to write in the voice of a young teenage boy was stilted and unnatural. The voice of the Book wasn’t much better. Things were over-explained, like it was an educational book for children.

When Benny was listening to a Benny Goodman recording we get this: “The original recording was made on acetate, and the scratchy pops and staticky hissing gave the music an almost tangible materiality, similar to that of the old black-and-white films. Both felt real in a way that digital recordings did not.”

I suppose Ozeki thinks I’ve never heard anyone speak to the superiority of records over digital. I also suppose she’s trying to show us form and materiality, but as form can sometimes be, her technique is clunky and heavy-handed.

Similarly, the minutiae of Annabelle’s life — again I suppose Ozeki is trying to bring home to us that Annabelle is overwhelmed by daily life in the material world — but the detail with which Annabelle’s tedious life is cataloged is excruciating.

Some readers speak to the magical realism, which I kept waiting for, but there was no magic in this book for me.


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