Big books. What are they for? Postmodernism. What is it for? Life. What is it for? These are the questions I pondered as I read I Am Radar.
I Am Radar is 656 pages long. Without the page of photo credits it would be 655 pages long. Without the photos it would be 641 pages long. Without the Selected Bibliography it would be 636 pages long. Without the descriptions of how various pieces of electrical equipment function, maybe 600 pages long. Without the tributes to Pynchon, shall we say, erring on the side of kindness, 450 pages. Without exposition? Without exposition, I Am Radar would be a novella.
Let’s do Pynchon first. Yes? It is no coincidence that Pynchon’s best work, The Crying of Lot 49, is also his shortest. Experiment and brevity are happy bedfellows. Experimental fiction is a magic trick and the writer should never hang around long enough for the reader to work out how it works. Turn up, pull a rabbit out of your ear, exit stage left. Larsen is, in some ways to his credit, less obtuse than Pynchon, but he also never leaves. He is still signing autographs at the side of the stage when the cleaners are packing away his table, revealing the hole in the floor and the rabbit hutch beneath it. I Am Radar is full of Pynchony things, secret societies, codes, and the like, but shorn of Pynchon’s manic paranoia (and equally importantly the place in history that created it) they are not frightening any more, just devices.
Shall we move onto exposition? Fine. There is a lot of it. This is partly because there is so much going on in the novel that some method of getting information to the reader quickly is inevitable but, in turn, that is largely because Larsen is having so much fun with his creation that he keeps adding bits to it. And this is the nub of any discussion of I Am Radar – to enjoy it you need to be having the same amount of fun with all the tangents that Larsen is. This is narrative taking the tourist route, full of digressions and detours. You need to have an appetite for that sort of thing. Normally a book review would give you a brief description of the plot but I wouldn’t know where to begin summing up I Am Radar. A whole lot of crazy shit, I guess, if you are happy to read that as being neither a positive nor a negative statement on my part.
Any Cop?: The problem with reviewing a big book is that if you don’t like it, your distaste is magnified to something more unpleasant, more aggressive, as you plough through its, oh, shall we say, 656 pages. I Am Radar is not a bad book, not really, just one that doesn’t know when to get off the stage. It will certainly find an audience (and I suspect those that like it will really like it) and Larsen definitely has a big bag of talent, but, until he tries limiting himself to 180 pages I wonder if he will truly reach his potential.