Title: The Morels
Author: Christopher Hacker. This is his first novel.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Summary: The Morels─Arthur, Penny, and Will─are a happy family of three living in New York City. So why would Arthur choose to publish a book that brutally rips his tightly knit family unit apart at the seams? Arthur’s old schoolmate Chris, who narrates the book, is fascinated with this very question as he becomes accidentally reacquainted with Arthur. A single, aspiring filmmaker who works in a movie theater, Chris envies everything Arthur has, from his beautiful wife to his charming son to his seemingly effortless creativity. But things are not always what they seem.
The Morels takes a unique look at the power of art─literature, music and film in particular─and challenges us as readers to think about some fascinating questions to which there are no easy answers. Where is the line between art and obscenity, between truth and fiction, between revolutionary thinking and brainless shock value, between craftsmanship and commerce? Is it possible to escape the past? Can you save your family by destroying it?
Do you like to debate what makes art “art”? Then this is the story for you. This family drama introduces us to the Morels. They are a complicated group whose problems seem to stem from their strong feelings about art. An astute observation by a character in the book is that she sees “art and commerce at opposite ends of the hall.” This seems to be the thrust of the debate in the story. The Morels is a complex, layered story that I mostly enjoyed even though the middle becomes a bit bogged down with background information and occasionally the writing is too heavy-handed (such as naming the main character “Art”). The ending, however, is surprising and intriguing and worth the wait.
I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book. I liked The Morels because it was a very unusual book, and I haven’t read anything like it before. I also liked the characters, because they are so complicated, but I didn’t feel emotionally attached to any of the characters – not even the narrator, who I connect with in almost every book I read. Maybe it was because of my lack of attachment to the characters, but the book felt disjointed and chaotic. The story didn’t draw me in, and I did not feel emotionally invested in the storyline – I felt like I was kept at a distance from any of the action. I had to focus to keep myself interested in the book, and I believe that a truly good book should do that for you. Ultimately, I did not enjoy this book, but I’m sure that there are many people out there who would feel more involved in the characters and the story than I did.
I am not sure what to say about this book. I enjoyed it. But I’m not confident enough in it to recommend it to anyone else. It is very New York-centric and I liked rambling through the streets of Manhattan but I don’t think that would appeal to everyone. There are a lot of multi-page discussions about music theory, literary theory and the meaning and point of art. Sometimes it feels like the author is stuck in a college lit class and sometimes it feels like he’s winking at it with you. He’s very good at painting vivid stories, even if they sometimes feel very disconnected within the plot. There are a number of twists and turns through which the book changes from the narrator’s life to a couple of hippies’ description of their life in the late 60s to basically a crime drama and on.
Read Instead: I would recommend Gone Girl as something with a similar feel that I’m more confident would be enjoyed.
The best literature challenges you somehow. And that seems to be exactly what The Morels is about. Its subject, Arthur Morel, is an artist who has constantly shocked and challenged those around him, usually to his detriment. As a whole, this novel considers his place as an artist but mostly considers his motives for acts that are more than shocking, they’re self-destructive. (This isn’t a novel for the faint of heart. That’s something I say often, since I have a thing for dark fiction. But the issues here are somewhat disturbing.)
Narrated by a childhood acquaintance of Arthur’s who happens upon him again as an adult, the novel isn’t just about Arthur’s art but the narrator, an amateur film producer who is searching for the “answer with a capital-A.” It also follows Arthur’s lovely wife, Penelope, who loves the mad genius in her husband without really understanding what makes him tick. The narrator was definitely a weak point in the novel, Arthur himself is consistently fascinating, though. A really thought-provoking and fascinating read for me.