Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

So, I found myself with a few days all by myself with nothing to do, and so I decided I'd try and read some books I'd been meaning to read for a long time but just hadn't gotten into for one reason or another. After listening to an episode the always-stimulating Coode Street Podcast (hosted by Locus regulars Gary Wolf and Jonathan Strahan about "best of" lists), I figured I'd take another shot at Tim Powers' Last Call, since both agreed that it was one of the best fantasy novels of the last twenty years. And I've read a lot of Powers' books, going back to Anubis Gates in the '80s, so I figured I'd probably enjoy it.

I've owned several copies of this book, from a '90s trade that I got from a roommate to a more recent mass market that disappeared during a move. I picked up the recent trade paperback in February when Harper reissued several of Powers' books in brand new editions. So the other afternoon, I sat down at Starbucks with a venti latte and my copy of the novel, with the object of getting as far into the book as possible as sundown. I didn't get very far.

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For one thing, the novel is heavily concerned with poker and card games, which I find to be borderline incomprehensible. And one of my hangups is that long descriptions in fiction of games or sports tend to make my eyes glaze over. But also there are stylistic quirks. The timeframe jumps from the '40s to the '60s to the '90s over the course of the first fifty pages. And Powers' characters tend to be barely sketched out; crazy shit starts happening to them before I could even get a handle on who they were supposed to be. The writing style feels mostly functional, which is okay if you're writing a standard thriller but deadly dull and confusing if you're dealing with the supernatural. (Powers hung out with Philip K. Dick during the '70s, and picked up a lot of his sensibilities; unfortunately he also got PKD's terminally wooden prose.)

The subject matter is interesting, and Powers' treatment of mythological and magical elements is intriguing. And he's clearly a very smart, erudite guy, and you can always sense the wheels turning in his head as you read his stories, which is not the case with a lot of urban fantasy. And people seem to love this novel above the rest of his work, and I feel like I should love it as well, or at least enjoy it. But I find it impenetrable — I don't hate it, I really want to get into it, but there's just something about the book — the prose, the pacing, the characterization — that just makes me want to pick up something else while I still have the time.

So my question, apart from whether or not I should go back to the novel, is this: What books have you picked up because they seemed like something you'd really be into (or had recommended to you for similar reasons) that you ended up abandoning out of boredom or worse?

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