Siri Hustvedt,
The Blindfold
(Norton, 1993)

On a recent Internet-free trip to the wilds of rural Nebraska, I found that I was bored. Not just ho-hum bored, but mind-numbingly, bone-dried, counting-the-blades-of-grass bored. I'd only packed two books, and they'd been devoured and exhausted in the first few days' idle hours.

In a serious book panic, I gathered my money and took a trip to the local bookstore, hoping my brain wouldn't implode before I arrived.

Lo and behold, they were having a sale! Not just a sale, either, but a Sale -- books for 25 and 50 cents, trying to make room for new stock. I pulled out my travel-wrinkled $20, and grabbed everything that looked interesting. I lunged at fiction like an interested crow would at Shiny Things.

Now, I expected to find some drivel. I knew that if the books had been there long enough to be marked down to a quarter, they probably weren't bestseller material. I spent $10 for a suitcase full of books (literally -- United Airlines is probably still gunning for me), and was, by and large, pleasantly surprised.

The Blindfold was the exception to that pleasure. Hustvedt writes with a disinterest that borders on boredom, using and reusing tired cliches, overwrites her points so much that I felt often like a scolded second-grader. The story rambles disjointedly; there is no continuity. Her main character is so unlikable that I found myself wishing that she was narrating from her grave.

More than once, I thought about resigning The Blindfold to the trash heap. In fact, I'm not sure why I even kept reading, other than that sort of car-wreck fascination that gripped me -- I wanted desperately to redeem the author, or at least to get my 50 cents worth from my purchase.

No satisfaction was to be had, however.

The story -- if you could call it such, and it would be a stretch -- follows Iris Vegan (yes, the character's name, if not her philosophy) around the poverty-stricken streets of New York City at different points in her life. From recording whispered descriptions of a dead woman's things for a wealthy recluse writer to being hospitalized in a psych ward for her persistent migranes -- the plot wanders back and forth through time and incidents without ever revealing anything of import about the character herself.

The title of The Blindfold comes from a story in which Iris has an affair with one of her married professors, making an already unlikable character insufferable. Stuck in, at the end of the "novel," the vignette is tacked on in what seems to be an attempt to make the book edgy and exciting -- neither of which it achieves.

I can't imagine recommending this book for the 50-cent price, much less its $9 (U.S.) cover tag. Buy a couple of gumballs from a vending machine instead. I'll guarantee you more enjoyment than you'd get from this pitiful novel.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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