Saturday, June 5, 2010

Life of Pi

I was in Costco yesterday getting milk, break, and eggs. And believe it or not, I really did buy just those three items. I passed through the media aisle, of course, to look at DVDs and Blu-ray movies, etc. They had a sale on Blu-ray discs. Regular price $12 and a $4 instant "rebate"-- not a bad deal for a Blu-ray movie. They didn't have any titles that I really wanted, however, so I passed on through and came on home. Keri would say that is amazing.

One of the titles they had on sale was The Sixth Sense. I had just started teaching college when that movie came out. I mentioned that I hadn't seen it yet to one of my classes, and of course they screeched, "No way! You HAVE to see it. It's SOOOO freaky!" So I saw it, and was pretty freaked out by it ... for awhile.

The thing is, that's a movie you can only see once, really (thus even a low price on a Blu-ray didn't tempt me all that much). Any subsequent viewings are going to be quite a different experience because you know the ending.

Life of Pi is like that. Once you get to the end and have to deal with the questions that Martel raises, both the implied and the explicit, you can't read the rest of the book through any other lens--not easily. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. I make a good part of my living encouraging people to deal with uncertainty, mixed messages, and different codes of interpretation in texts. But lots of the expectations set up by the first two parts of the book... let's call them "ocean" and "pre-ocean"... are only partly, or perhaps poorly, dealt with in the third part..."post-ocean." If you are the type that is okay with ambiguity and working out your own ideas about what things "mean," then Life of Pi is likely to be an acceptable read for you. If you take Martel at his word and assume that the meaning he most heavily hints at in the ending is the meaning of the book, then you'll probably be okay with it too.

If, however, you want all the loose threads from parts one and two to weave together in a satisfying and useful way, then Life of Pi might not be worth your time. And, by the way, by "satisfying" and "useful" I don't mean facile or simple or dogmatic. I just mean that the parts should line up in some way that makes sense to the reader and gives him/her something to chew on. For me, after spending all that time afloat and at sea (feeling like all the metaphors and narrative fun really were going to be useful and satisfying), the third part was mostly gristle and grit. It just didn't work. Piscine Molitor Patel never really got home, if you ask me.

So... do you read it or not? (or did you already?) What do you think?
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