My eyes are tired all the time. I’m trying to wear my glasses more, but it isn’t helping.

Like 15 years ago I read the first novel of the Neapolitan series, My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. I don’t remember it being that thick. Or anyway I finished it without remarking on the weight or duration. A couple weeks ago I started listening to the second and then saw it was about 1400 minutes, which is pushing Stephen King territory. It’s 150 pages longer than the first, turns out, almost 150% of the length of the first. The third book is shorter but still over 400 pages in total. And since it’s all focused on one set of characters—or if you want it get technical, it’s primarily focused on two characters, the narrator, and the friend she’s obsessed with—now we’re looking at Lord of the Rings as a comparison, because there’s a fourth book as well, which is back up in the pushing 500 range.

Typically I like long novels. And I remember enjoying the first book. Gave it a four on Goodreads, anyway. The second had some excellent scenes, and Ferrante really knows how to push you to keep reading the next section, or the next book, what have you, but this thing turned back on itself practically every other chapter. The two main characters were regularly shitty to each other, and sometimes genuinely, touchingly affectionate, but mostly shitty, and still the start of the next chapter would be something like, “But I couldn’t stay away” or “Eventually I decided to try again” or something similar that left me feeling like nothing actually mattered, no shitty behavior would have any lasting consequences, so it was harder for me to care about this one than, evidently, I did about the first.

I can see what she was going for, I think. Eventually the behavior got so shitty that they had to separate for years, which is deflating inside a narrative that only really cares about the relationship between these two people. But I think the devotion between the two friends was supposed to be going through trial after trial in an accumulation of stress until it breaks (sort of). Which, you know, is just fine in terms of plot structure. But it did make me wonder if the first novel had been a big big hit immediately, or if the series was well under way before she got famous.

This discussion pops up sporadically in my life, every few years or so I’ll run into someone who’s just noticing the phenomenon of diminishing criticism. Or more often they’re noticing a super successful person, usually whom they were big big fans of once upon a time, putting out something crappy, and they’re like why? What happened? And I’m usually like, they ran out of critics they would listen to. They outpaced all the people who would have otherwise provided some guardrails, some quality editing, some tough-love advice. They got tagged with genius and malaprop’d it in their own mind, thinking it meant infallible. They forgot how many other people actually contributed to the early success and decided they had mostly done it all on their own, because that’s what everybody in their closed circle told them in one collective sycophantic massage, so the forgetting wasn’t all that hard to do and actually there wasn’t anything to forget anyway because I really DID do all that on my own!

This was Kanye, the most recent discussion topic.

Anyway. You see it all the time with the wildly successful. The training wheels come off and then they forget they ever needed them. And then they don’t live up to expectations, or sometimes fail miserably. I could give examples George Lucas but I’m sure you can think of some on your own Elon.

Oddly, this is one of the things I think about with an inordinate frequency, is how if I ever did publish something that went to the top of the charts and made people a lot of money and all those people wanted more of the same from me and started telling me how smart I was and whatever else I showed them they’d say hmmm yes, yes, I like what you’ve done here, yes, yes, all without ever reading a word because they can’t see beyond the big metallic-green dollar signs in their eyes. Every time my new Facebook page gets a new subscriber, I think about this. Every time a bot follows me on Tumblr and triggers that red notification symbol, for a split second, before I realize what just happened, I try to check myself with an admonition to remain humble, that just because people like you doesn’t mean you don’t still suck the large majority of the time.

Anyway, hello, my one new follower on Facebook, glad to see you.

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