Great story, what’s the point?

Posted in Reviews at 16:30 by RjZ

I was telling my story of a person hacking up phlegm on holy Mt. Sinai to some friends at dinner the other day. I was really doing it up, quieting my voice to communicate the hushed tones of the climb and then really hacking to demonstrate the shock of hearing such discordant noise near the top of the mountain. When I was done, they looked at me puzzled; expectantly. What’s the point?

I have to admit they’re right. It’s a cool story, but I’d built it up so much with my dramatic telling that being told that all that really happens is that we’re disturbed on our way up a morning hike is a bit of a let down. I still like the story, but I guess it’s easy to over promise and then under-deliver! I’ll have to watch out for that in the future.

It wasn’t so different with Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers. I enjoyed the book very much. Unlike a typical novel, nearly every chapter could stand alone as a fascinating short story in its own right. Yet, like the carpets mentioned in the title, they are interwoven with each other into a complex pattern.

Translated wonderfully from German (actually, I’d like to see the German edition, because I can’t judge how good it really is, except to say that one would never know it’s translated) The Carpet Makers reflects many themes from post WWII Germany including how one questions authority from the state and the church and what can happen to a society with and without absolute power. The novel reads quickly and enjoyably and makes for an interesting genre bender: is it science fiction for the fantasy lover or fantasy for the sci-fi buff?

The only problem is, like my climb up Mt. Sinai, Eschbach seems to have spent more time in the telling than on the ending. Most of the chapters would make fine short stories; the last chapter isn’t one of them. Approaching the last few pages I kept thinking “there won’t be enough time to wind this up.” There wasn’t, but that didn’t stop Eschbach from offering us an unsatisfying, and certainly not terribly unexpected ‘plot twist.’ One wonders if the author suddenly became tired of writing.

I enjoyed the journey through the book and I’d recommend it to anyone for an exciting, page-turning read, but, like my dinner companions hanging on my every word, you might wonder where the punch-line is.


  1. Nelbot said,

    March 6, 2007 at 16:42

    Actually Carpet Makers did start out as a short story that the author stretched to novel length at the insistance of his friends, it might have been better off staying a short story becuase I felt the same way when I read it, it was a really fascinating story with interesting themes but was a let down at the end and I actually remember thinking the exact same thing near the end, there isn’t enough writing left to tie it all up….

  2. tim said,

    March 11, 2007 at 9:36

    I still think the point of that Mt Sinai story is that god is properly spelled s-n-o-t, not y-a-h-w-e-h or g-o-d or even r-o-n. Maybe if you had worked that in?

    Or perhaps there’s a way to work in that Gaffigan (sp?) joke about god appearing to moses as a burning bush–because he had been burning some bush… and to rj as … because he had been …

  3. Nelbot said,

    March 16, 2007 at 13:40

    come on- you haven’t written anything in almost 2 weeks- how am I supposed to use this as a Brain break when I need to think about something other than particle counter orders for a few minutes around 3 p.m. when I’m in the mid afternoon slump… damn… and PMS blocks things like ALT.com… come on slacker- what’s the matter, busy training my replacement over there? Get your act togetehr and write something new…

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