READING: What I Loved–Skirting the line between fiction and reality

I just finished reading Siri Hustvedt’s third novel, What I Loved. This carefully written story of the friendship between two New York based
literary/artistic couples began with a graceful pacing and leisurely plot development that reminded me of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose , but about halfway through, the story turned into something else-a clunky roman a clef about the real life Club Kid Murders, in which downtown scenster Michael Alig was convicted of taking the life of one Andre (Angel) Melendez, chopping up the body, and dumping it in the East River, events soon to be portrayed in the film Party Monster.
Turns out that Paul Auster’s son, Daniel, from his first mariage to writer Lydia Davis—was involved in this murder, a murder remarkably similar to the murder that takes up the last third of Hustvedt’s novel. In 1998, Daniel Auster, then 20, pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court to stealing $3,000 from the body of a deceased drug dealer named Andre (Angel) Melendez. He admitted to being in Alig’s apartment during the murder and received a sentence of five years’ probation.
The novel is full of other apparently autobiographical bits–one of the characters–Iris, is Siri spelled backwards. Another main character paints a series about his father, similar to The Invention of Solitude, Auster’s book about his dad. And so on.
While I didn’t know any of this as I was reading it may partly explain why the tone and pace of the book veer off so suddenly from the strong beginning. Hustvedt is an excellent writer but the structure of the book seems as flimsy as a house of cards, and the resolution at the end highly unsatisfactory. Too bad real life got in the way.
Gossip: The New York Observer, Slate.
Reviews: Bookreporter, AP and NY Times.
Interview: here.