I’m almost done REPUBLIC OF DREAMS: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960 by Ross Wetzsteon. The subject is one of my favourite periods of history, involving a lot of my favourite artists, but the book is a slog. It’s not the length; it’s the writing. I’m not crazy about the structure. He’s split the chapters up by subject, rather than by time. So the Mabel Dodge chapter is Mabel Dodge’s life in chronological order. Then the Max Eastman chapter is Max Eastman’s life in chronological order. But that means when they intersect–and the nature of Greenwich Village, in fact Wetzsteon’s whole thesis, is that everyone intersects–that the chapters retread the same ground, over and over.
It reads more like a series of essays–or high school book reports–than a book. It isn’t really a book so much as a collection of interesting stories and interesting characters. Kind of like reading extended Wikipedia pages for every artist who worked and lived in Greenwich Village during the first half of the last century. Except each chapter isn’t interesting and complete enough to stand on its own.
I am notorious for starting books and never finishing them. I have the stack of unread books which every person who loves books feels guilty about. The difference is that I’ve read the first chapter, at least, of every single one. I’ve started THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY at least three times. Then I move on because something else looks more interesting. I want to finish reading REPUBLIC OF DREAMS. It’s about interesting people and interesting stories, but there’s a lot of filler, too. I keep marking great quotes, so there’s something in there that keeps me coming back. But I’m not enjoying it like I wanted to. This book is big and thick and hardcover, yet I dragged it from Halifax, on a bus, on a plane, in a car up the coast from LA, back home to Vancouver. I left a lot of books behind, but I chose this one because I had such high hopes. That’s the most disappointing thing of all.
Then last night, when I flipped to the end to see how many more pages I had to go (less than a hundred), I discovered the author, Ross Wetzsteon, died before he could finish it. What’s published is something more like a third draft than the final and revised version. So perhaps I can forgive how it reads like a collection of celebrity profiles, rather than a non-fiction narrative.