I gave up on The Kite Runner

by Mr. Sheehy

I haven’t flipped channels mindlessly for a long time, but I remember the experience well. I’d sit there hitting the up button, not ready to go to bed but not energetic enough to engage in something worthwhile. Sometimes I’d stop at a movie and get involved, watching half or more of it. Then the movie might go to commercial and I’d flip to another channel, or I might have to go to the kitchen for something; either way, I would get distracted and forget about the movie, or the ball game, or whatever it was I had been watching. Some level of engagement, eh? It was so high that I actually forgot about the movie after two minutes away. If it had been a basketball game, I might check the newspaper the following morning to see who won, but I’d be happy to have just the score. The point of caring about it had passed and I didn’t miss whatever had followed.

Unfortunately, I have reached that point in my reading of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, a book I picked up with a decent level of anticipation, since some of my colleagues loved it and I could see by the copious quotes that crowd the cover and inside pages that many in the press enjoyed it.

Alas, at page 223 of 371, I am changing the channel and not flipping back. I had been on shaky ground through the last 50 pages or so, when I began skimming certain sections in an attempt to reach something more interesting. When the speed-reading instinct kicks in, I’m likely finished, but I was willing to find that element to re-engage me in the storyline, a willingness that was snuffed out on page 218, when the narrator’s childhood friend Hassan was killed. That signaled the end, because it meant that every character that kept me moving through the book (the other being the narrator’s father, Baba) was now dead, and I had no reason to continue. I had no emotional attachment to the insipid narrator, apparently feeling about him about the same way he felt his father felt about him. He just lacked . . . character, which is not a good sign for the protagonist.

I am aware that this is the point Hosseini makes, that his character is in need of moral strength and doesn’t find it until the end, but apparently I have a difficult time reading so much about a character who has nothing going for him. For a while that was okay, but the conflicts that pulled me through the beginning of the book resolved themselves too much to pull me any further. I needed another compelling conflict to convince me to continue, and the narrator’s love life and book deals were not enough.

Aside from this motivation issue, however, I admit there were little annoyances that had built up a bit, and when my two points of interest were gone, I no longer attempted to hold back the petty criticism. I’ll share them for the sake of sharing.

The first one is that I thought Hosseini over-used the dramatic clincher sentence. It seemed like every three pages I hit a section break in the chapter and he’d throw in something that smacked of a punch-line. After a while they took on a predictable rhythm and lost much of their effect. I suppose they were supposed to be cliff hangers or dramatic punches to preceding action, but instead they often fell flat, mostly due to the frequency with which they’d been used.

That was also the year that Soraya and I began trying to have a child.

That was the night I became an insomniac.

Soryaya pulled me to her and the tears finally came.

That last one particularly annoyed me, because the phrase indicates that he had been willing to cry but hadn’t been able to — which was not the case here, as a half-page before we are told he “bit back the tears that had threatened all day.” If you’re biting back tears, they don’t finally come. You finally let them come, maybe.

I realize I am being immature in picking apart sentences, but sentences are important. They’re what makes the writing beautiful, and they’re a large part of what eases me as a reader into that created world of the story. When I enter that world, I don’t want to think about the writing unless I remind myself specifically to take notice of it (which, in reality, means forcing myself out of that world). In The Kite Runner, however, I thought about the writing quite a bit.

One of the things that made me think about it a lot was odd repetition of details, as if someone didn’t trust me as a reader to hold onto the details that were given to me earlier in the story. On page 39 we hear our narrator say about Assef, the book’s villain, “Not for the first time, it occurred to me that Assef might not be entirely sane.” At the time I remarked to him, “That’s true. It’s not even the first time you’ve mentioned it in the last two pages.” A page before Assef is described this way: “I will never forget how Assef’s blue eyes glinted with a light not entirely sane and how he grinned, how he grinned, as he pummeled that poor kid unconscious.” It’s an awkward restatement of detail, it happens in other parts of the book, and I wonder why an editor didn’t catch it.

I mentioned this to one colleague (this was before I’d officially given up) and her response was to share a story of similar reading experiences. Her final words were interesting: “It makes writing such a thing seem like a doable achievement, doesn’t it?” It does.

I admitted to one colleague who loves this book that I wouldn’t be continuing, and she thought me crazy. That’s okay, because she also told me the ending, and I’m happy to have stopped where I did. I have been enjoying myself in the kitchen, as I dig in the cupboard for something tasty .

Thanks for reading.