My favorite aspect of The Golden House is Salman Rushdie’s clear enjoyment of writing a story. His sentences, the little diversions he takes with the plot, the side streets of language he travels down, pointing out literary and pop culture landmarks along the way; all these avenues of fiction were enjoyable to visit with him. I haven’t read Rushdie since he wrote The Satanic Verses. I don’t recall that book being as playful with language as this current selection. The plot, however, is more of an American epic than a playful tale. The Golden family is large in the scope of their reach and influence. The patriarch is a powerful man with three diverse sons and a past he has tried to escape. Besides the family, the primary players include a Russian seductress and a young man named Rene (think Nick Carraway) who wants to be a filmmaker and views the family as source material. He is not, however, an aloof watcher. He becomes deeply involved in the life of the Golden's.
There are a number of interesting literary references the reader can make. I’ve already mentioned Nick Carraway and there are definitely flavors of The Great Gatsby in this book. There are also ties to both Roman emperors and, I’d say, Greek drama. And Rushdie makes it clear he is playing with the Slavic myths involving Vailisa and Baba Yaga.
I was also amazed at how current this book is. Not only are there timely cultural references, but the political climate is ultra current. The shape of our current social and political America plays as an unseen, yet influential hand indirectly impacting all aspects of the story and the characters in it.
The characters (and the mythologies they can bring to the story) were interesting to me, and I was involved in all their stories, However, it was those same characters which kept me from loving the book. I didn’t really like any of them. The narrator was the most likable, but some of his actions, which had resounding impacts, seemed to be done without any sense of personal integrity. Then again, maybe that was part of the point; maybe Rushdie wanted the reader to be a little sickened by the whole thing. But don’t get too upset; Rushdie does leave us with hope, maybe that is the ultimate takeaway from The Golden House.
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