Imagine watching sports primarily for the athleticism. The power, finesse, and agility of a few choice athletes doing all kinds of impressive things on either the field or the court that celebrates the grace and motion of the human form at its top potential. Now imagine these same athletes refusing to cooperate with their teammates or score. Despite your admiration for their talent, you might grow frustrated, particularly if your team ends up losing the game.
That’s how I generally feel after finishing one of Eddison’s novels. A Fish Dinner in Memison, book two of the Zimiamvian Trilogy, is one such work. (Incidentally, book one, Mistress of Mistresses, published in 1935, suffers the same fate.) Both narrative and dialogue offers stunning, spellbinding craftsmanship in language, phrases flowing in a poignant manner so adroitly constructed as to seduce the reader into turning yet another page for yet more linguistic beauty. The seeming ease with which Eddison composes his prose – prose altogether smooth, erudite, lyrical, piercing, tender, perceptive – is unassailable. His characters feel real. Their temperaments are convincing, their desires relatable.
But like lots of wordsmiths of the medium, this is a writer comparable to a cellist providing stunning finger work and other virtuosity but who lacks a song or composition to perform. It’s with only a passing reflection I bemoan the approach Eddison and some other talented authors employ since, focused on attending to the cast, costumes, mannerisms, witticisms, and environment, they nonetheless fail to provide a plot.
I don’t dispute Eddison is a great writer, but because I would also enjoy seeing these characters move through a story, l ultimately finish the novel somewhat dissatisfied. If one can’t have both, I suppose it comes down to choosing between a rusty clunker rocketing along the Audubon at breakneck speeds (your average high-octane thriller with only serviceable writing), or a sleek, polished Aston Martin forever in park. Of course, we’d probably all prefer an Aston Martin rocketing along the Audubon, but if life has taught me anything, it’s that we can’t have everything. Rated PG-13. Four out of five stars (principally for the writing).