Friday, October 20, 2006

Ann Packer, The Dive from Clausen's Pier

Ann Packer, The Dive from Clausen's Pier. This book was about Carrie, a young women who stayed in her hometown of Madison; first for college, and then for a job, to be with her high school sweetheart. She grew discontented and restless, and before that could boil over into a break-up he jumped in a lake and broke his neck. So, does she stay or does she go? That moral dilemma is pretty much the whole book.
I thought Carrie was bizarre - I didn't buy the whole "wants to design clothes" thing - she didn't seem passionate enough. Not to mention the descriptions of clothes were vague and antiquated. I was also dissatisfied with her final decision. And she has this completely unrealistic sojourn in New York City where she lives for months and months off a few hundred dollars. Just details, really, that didn't ring true. But I enjoyed the story, and sympathized with her sometimes; the narrative was great, and I liked her mother, I grew to like the boyfriend, her lover was interesting even if a stereotype. Madison seemed truer (although simplified) than the portrait of New York City. It was as if New York was included more for what it represents as "the big city", as anonymity, as culture, as escape, than for any portrait of the true city. LA or London would have done nearly as well. But it is true that New York occupies a special place in the American myth. So a good read, but faintly dissatisfying.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I don't know how I managed to miss this book for all these years. Just beautiful: simple, moving, exquisite. The central figure is left an enigma. None of the people fulfill their potentials, their strivings. Life just wears on and leaves them behind. It's a sad story, but not wrenching - it just leaves you with a heartache.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina. I've been reading this forever. Partly because I have a mountain of readings for school, and partly since I've been unable to feel any deep sympathy with any of the characters. Anna - her passivity drives me crazy, the same with her husband. Vronsky is just a vaguely likable slacker, and I have no patience for slackers. Kitty is just a child, and Levin, who is actually interesting, is annoying in his infatuation with nothing more than an ideal of romance and a young girl. I feel their relationship is so lopsided in many ways that I really don't feel empathy for them. Levin seemed to have a deeper relationship with his housekeeper and hired hands than he does with his wife. I love Tolstoy, for all that, and the book still manage to be gripping, but I don't really like any of the people in it. It's sad when I'm more interested in the discursive asides and arguments of bit players than in the central drama.

I hate to rant on about Anna, but come on! If you're going to sin, you'd damn well better enjoy it. At the very least get around to self hatred and despair a lot quicker, there's no need to drag on in a sickening muddle for years on end. Hamlet couldn't make up his mind either, but at least he made some great speeches. Rip that scab off or decide to tough it out and be a good girl. Take up knitting, or get to know your husband, or become a closet drinker or something. Jeez. And Vronsky sounds like a fun guy - if you're living in sin, why be so damn respectable and boring about it? Rob some banks, gamble, something - you run away with your lover and all you can do is go to museums? I realize Anna didn't have a whole lot of choices, and was circumscribed by her role in society - but she is a total wet noodle. That train arrived about 400 pages too late.

And Levin, although an admirable man, is just too condescending to be believed. Let me try to show why- here's a scene from Levn and Kitty's honeymoon: "He was supposed, as he understood it, to do his work and to rest from it in the happiness of love. She was supposed to be lovely and only that. But, like all men he had forgotten that she also needed to work. And he was surprised at how she, the poetic, lovely Kitty, in the very first, not weeks, but days of married life could think, remember and fuss about furniture, mattresses for guests, about a tray, the cook, the dinner, and so on. ... And loving her as he did, though he chuckled at those cares, he could not help admiring them. He chuckled at her arranging the furniture ...." Blech. He should have married a peasant, and at least they could have farmed together.