Yarn Along

Yarn Along 11.26.14

I read Richard Rodríguez’s Hunger of Memory as a freshman in college, and it affected me in that worldview-shattering way that books are supposed to affect one in college (at least until the kid across the hall gets a thyroid problem and moves all his furniture out into the hall and plays squash in his room all night for two weeks straight and then you get too tired to have much of a worldview at all and pretty much stay that way until you’re thirty. But I’m digressing, aren’t I?). Rodríguez followed that memoir with two more, and I’ve wanted to read them ever since I learned they exist. This is the second in the trilogy, Days of Obligation: An Argument with my Mexican Father, and it’s wonderful. I look forward to writing a full review soon.

I’m working on the second sleeve of an adult-sized rollneck sweater made with four different colors of fisherman yarn. The first sleeve is cream-colored; this one is the same cream heathered in with light brown (it looks gray in the photo, but it’s brown). The front of the sweater will be this same light brown, and the back will be a darker brown. So far I’m liking it.

Other than that, there’s lots to do, lots to do. There’s a big meal to cook, novel chapters to write, books to read, cats to beg to tell me where they hid my car keys.

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Posted in Yarn Along | 4 Comments

Thoughts on Part I of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (by Jill)

goldfinch-3_4

 

Donna Tartt’s long-awaited third novel came out late in 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014. I read her two earlier novels, The Secret History, and The Little Friend, years ago, and remember really enjoying them, but at this point I couldn’t tell anyone what in particular I liked about them, besides a vague sense that Tartt’s writing is polished, and artful, and dense, and that the plots of her two previous novels had not one similarity that I can think of right now. One was about college kids, and one was about a missing child. And The Goldfinch is about a boy who becomes a man in the wake of his mother’s untimely death.

The Goldfinch came to me as October 2013’s Powell’s Books Indiespensible selection, several months before it won the Pulitzer Prize. I probably would have bought it in hardcover anyway, because I was very excited to have a new Donna Tartt book, and she isn’t a very prolific novelist—this is only her third since 1992. This was, I believe, the first book I had pre-ordered on Amazon that Indiespensible decided to send me. So I got to pay twice as much for it, but it came with some yummy salted caramel candy from a small candy shop in Seattle, a fancy slipcase for storage, and it’s signed by the author. Oh, and it’s a first edition, which is lovely, except that one of my cats really enjoys chewing on my books, and the more I want to keep them pristine, the more he wants to chew on them. And then I put a leaking coffee cup on the back cover a few mornings ago. So it’s not looking very pretty, but the pages are smooth and sort of shiny, so it’s been fun to turn the pages.

Bethany seemed to find Part I of the novel to be the strongest of the five parts that make up the whole, and she did a really good job of summarizing it, which is sort of too bad for me, because now I can’t pad my post with plot summary. At the opening, we meet Theo as an adult, holed up in a hotel in Amsterdam, for reasons as of yet to be elucidated, though it’s implied that he may be wanted by the law. He reports having a dream about his mother, who died fourteen years ago. From this opening, he goes back to that day and moves forward in a very linear, thus far, fashion. He and his mom go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to check out a new exhibit of Dutch Masters to kill some time before they have a meeting at Theo’s school to discuss his recent suspension. We never do find out what Theo did to get suspended, because that meeting never happens. He goes back to school after his mom dies and no one ever mentions it again. The painting Theo’s mother especially wants to see is the titular The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius. Fabritius was a pupil of Rembrandt, and teacher of Vermeer. I’ve heard of the other two, but never of Fabritius. The painting is small. And it’s of a bird, chained to its feeder. Apparently people back in the seventeenth century kept finches as pets in this manner. I’ve never understood keeping birds as pets. The thing about this painting that makes it special is that it’s an early example of using shadows to create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional piece of canvas. Have I mentioned yet that this painting is small? Wikipedia says it’s 13.2 x 9 inches, which explains why Theo is able to smuggle it out of the museum after the bomb goes off. He shoves it in a tote bag, and he leaves. Other things happen after the bomb goes off, of course, including talking with a dying man, and looking for his mother, and describing the strange silence that follows an explosion. During the two hundred pages I’ve read so far, Theo keeps meaning to do something with it, return it or something, but time passes, and then all of a sudden he is moving to Las Vegas and packing it in his suitcase with his socks and summer clothes.

Why does Theo leave Manhattan for Las Vegas? That’s because his father and his girlfriend Xandra turn up and take him there. Theo’s dad walked out on his family about a year prior to the tragedy. He was a drunk, and a mean one, and Theo and his mom don’t really seem too broken up by his departure. When Larry Decker returns, Theo is stunned, but resigned to his fate. He doesn’t trust his father, which seems like a good idea, because the first thing this “gentleman” does when he gets into town is not to find his son, but to try and get into the old apartment to “see what’s what (185).” Given Larry’s past, Theo assumes this means that he wants to figure out how much money can be made by selling off his estranged wife’s stuff. The good news is that Larry is no longer drinking, but the bad news is that he has moved onto pills, and he and Xandra give Theo something before he gets on the plane to Vegas. I know that once Theo moves to Vegas his life devolves in the way that I think most New York academics assume everyone in Las Vegas lives: drinking, gambling, drugs, and art theft. I’m not looking forward to watching this downward spiral unfold, and that may be the reason why I haven’t been excited to write this post today and go back to reading. I like Theo, despite the fact that he is likely more articulate in his thoughts than the average thirteen/fourteen year old (let’s just pretend that his adult self is infusing adult sensibilities into his child self as he tells the story—I’m hoping that’s what Tartt is up to, and she isn’t making mistakes). He seems like a good kid who means well.

Oh, one more thing to mention: the old man who Theo talks with in the museum is the person who shows him where The Goldfinch is and encourages him to take it and keep it safe. He also gives Theo his ring and amidst all the nonsense he’s saying he tells him the name of his shop: Hobart and Blackwell. Theo gets there eventually, and meets Hobie, Mr. Blackwell’s business partner. Hobie is a nice man who restores antique furniture that Mr. Blackwell (Welty) purchases and sells. Pippa is Welty’s niece who is also in the museum when the bomb goes off. Pippa lives with Welty—her mother died tragically six years earlier. Theo was drawn to Pippa prior to the explosion—he thought she was cute or something. Theo and Hobie develop a friendship of sorts; Hobie is the only adult Theo is actually willing to talk to about things, and after he visits with Hobie, he spends time with Pippa in her sick room. She didn’t get out of the museum as unscathed as Theo—she had some sort of surgery, her head is shaved, she has memory deficits, and she prefers to sit in the dark because light hurts her eyes. She is taken away from New York shortly before Theo, to go to Texas with an aunt. Since Welty is gone, Hobie is not a legal guardian or relative, so the closest living relation is contacted to take her to Texas. I’m only mentioning these characters now because I think they are going to be important later, but aren’t going to be around for a while. Pippa is probably going to be a love interest, and some sort of orphan point-counterpoint to Theo. Hobie may be Theo’s only positive adult role model as the story progresses, unless Larry and Xandra are planning to step in, which I kind of doubt.

Posted in Donna Tartt, Fiction - general, Fiction - Important Award Winners, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill | Leave a comment

A Review of Bill Roorbach’s The Remedy for Love (by Bethany)

Roorbach_RemedyforLove_jkt_HC_HR

This book – the first of Roorbach’s that I’ve read – seems like a stage play that took a wrong turn in the Department of Genre Assignations (DGA) and ended up as a novel. This is not exactly a problem, of course, since novels and plays rely on many of the same techniques: characterization, conflict, the three-act structure. In fact, many of the fiction professors I’ve known have urged their students to study plays for insight on how to move their stories and novels forward through scenes rather than exposition and how to convey information efficiently through gestures and dialogue. This is not to say that The Remedy for Love is a bad novel; it’s not. It’s readable and suspenseful, and its two key characters are well drawn. As a novel, I’d give it about a B. If it were a play, though, I think it could be fantastic, maybe even an A+. I’ll explain.

At the beginning of the novel, Eric – a lawyer in a small Maine town – is in the supermarket buying a lot of hoity-toity groceries in advance of a visit from Alison, whom we don’t yet know is his estranged wife. Ahead of him in line is a young woman who appears to be homeless; she’s buying items like boxed wine and ramen noodles and instant macaroni and cheese, and when the time comes to pay for her groceries she discovers that she does not have enough money to do so. The checkout clerk is surly with her, indicating Eric and the other customers in line behind him. To demonstrate that he isn’t the impatient jerk the checkout clerk thinks he is, Eric chips in $20 so the woman can buy her groceries. Later, in the parking lot, Eric sees the homeless woman awkwardly carrying her six bags of heavy groceries out of the lot and toward a highway that leads out of town, and he stops and offers her a ride home. In Eric’s car, they exchange autobiographies: her name is Danielle (for now, she says) and emphasizes that she attended college and was once a teacher. Eric confesses to the fact that he and his wife are taking a trial separation but have agreed to meet for dinner once per month to talk and gauge the integrity of their marriage. Eric expected Alison that night, but he confesses to Danielle that she has stood him up several times before.

While all of this is going on, a storm is brewing. Everyone Eric comes into contact with has something to say about the storm of the century, which appears to be descending upon the town of Woodchurch, Maine even as the exposition of this novel plays itself out. Even in the few minutes that it takes for Eric to follow Danielle’s directions – which lead down the highway, to a road leading out of town – the snow intensifies noticeably. (Think about all the cool things that could be done with lighting if this were a stage play – shadows of snowflakes, moments of near-darkness as a storm cloud passes the sun! I know, I know – I’ve made my point.) Danielle directs Eric to stop by the side of the road. The only building in sight is a veterinary office. Eric knows the office and has taken his dog there in the past; he no longer does so because a) Alison has custody of the dog, and b) he recently won a lawsuit against the vet on behalf of a client of his, and as a result the vet now hates him. This fact will become important in a moment.

Eric asks Danielle where she lives, and she points to a trail that leads down to the river. The trail is already mostly obscured by snow. Eric begins trying to persuade her to come back to town – he’ll drop her at a friend’s house or at a church – but she insists that all she wants is to be left alone to go home. (Danielle is generally surly toward Eric during this scene, although every so often she seems to appreciate his help and his gestures of concern). Eric agrees to let her stay here but insists on following her to her door and helping carry her groceries. He noticed earlier that Danielle is limping, and she confirms that she has sprained her ankle. He follows her lead; the trail descends precipitously through the woods and is almost completely obscured by the snow, which falls harder with every minute. On top of that, the sun has set, and the woods are pitch dark and dangerously cold.

Eventually the trail leads them to a shack – one room with a small sleeping loft, no water, no electricity, no utilities besides a wood stove, no sanitary facilities besides a soon-to-be-buried outhouse. Eric is mortified by the conditions in which she lives and again pressures her to come back to town with him, but she insists that he leave her alone. Finally he complies. His slippery uphill walk back to the highway takes forever. He makes several wrong turns. He never stops thinking about Danielle and worrying about how she will survive the storm. And he also keeps thinking about Alison, his excitement at seeing her later that night jockeying with a fatalistic sense that she won’t show up, that their marriage is over and he might as well admit it.

He reaches his car, and his vision rests on the expensive groceries he purchased: imported aged parmesan cheese, two $35 bottles of wine, fresh pasta, eggplant, gourmet olive oil. His mindset at that moment is that Alison won’t show up, and of course he realizes that even if she does, that won’t change the fact that Danielle needs the food much more than he does, and he resolves to venture down the trail one more time and bring Danielle his groceries. The hike is even more treacherous than before. It takes forever, but he makes it. Danielle is furious at him for coming back; she screams obscenities at him and comes close to attacking him physically, but she does eventually accept the food, and Eric leaves to climb back up the hill in what are now near-whiteout conditions.

I can imagine that some of my readers might be a little puzzled at this point about why I think this novel would be such a great stageplay. Snow-covered embankments don’t translate to the stage especially well, and plays thrive on conflict, so who would want to see a man slipping and sliding his way back and forth along an icy trail in Italian loafers while the two possible avenues of conflict (Alison and Danielle) are offstage? Well, that’s all true. But everything I’ve summarized above happens in the first 25-30 pages of the novel. The bulk of the book (approximately 260 of its 310 pages) takes place in the cabin where Danielle is squatting – and this cabin would make the perfect setting for a play and would even allow the director to maintain Aristotle’s three unities of time, place, and action, and who doesn’t like Aristotle’s three unities of time, place, and action? Certainly not anyone I know.

When Eric gets back to the highway the second time, the veterinary hospital has been shut down for the night and his car is gone. Eric concludes that the veterinarian had his car towed for being parked on her property. His cell phone is in the car, so he has no way to call for help. He tries to break into the veterinary office and even injures his shoulder trying to break the door down, and he knocks on the door of the only house in the vicinity but finds only a crazy hoarder who seems unable to answer any of Eric’s questions or lend him a phone. So after exhausting all of these options, he heads back down the trail yet again to face the furious Danielle, who shouts at him and hits him and accuses him of being a stalker and a rapist and any number of other things but ultimately allows him to stay.

This of course, is where the novel gets good, and where a play would get even better. The one-room cabin with a small sleeping loft could be rendered in perfect detail on stage, and Roorbach conveys both characters in enough detail that they would come to life on stage as well: Danielle in her enormous stinky coat, the badly sprained ankle, the hair on the back of her head inexplicably and messily cut off, with the exception of some dirty, matted remnants, and Eric in his soaked Italian shows and his inability to stop checking his jacket pocket as if his phone were there and he could see if Alison had sent him a text. The relationship between Eric and Danielle becomes the focal point of the novel, as they spend about 72 hours together – first trapped in the cabin killing time, then trying to salvage the cabin as an avalanche begins to pull it toward the river, and finally escaping from the cabin and making their slow return trip to the highway just moments before the cabin slides off the hill.

Just about everything that you might imagine would happen in this situation happens. Eric cooks fabulous food for Danielle. He confesses to her about his failing marriage. She tells him about her husband Jimmy, and for a long time the details she provides about Jimmy are so disparate and baffling (he’s an elementary school teacher! He’s an Army Ranger!) that Eric has no idea whether he is real or fictitious. Remember all the talk about the baby in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The discussions about Jimmy aren’t quite that crazy, but they come close. The fact that Eric is a lawyer is convenient during these discussions. He thinks about all the strategies he has used or seen other lawyers use to deflect unpleasant truths, and the reader becomes his accomplice in trying to figure Danielle out. As time passes, both Eric and Danielle bathe – the old-fashioned way, in a tub on the kitchen floor, in snow that has been melted on the stove – sleep – first apart, then together – and kiss, but while all of this is going on, the charged, frenetic, contradictory banter between Eric and Danielle never stops, and the reader is never entirely sure who is telling the truth and what exactly is at stake. I began to think that I’d like to see this novel adapted for the stage right after I began saying to myself that this novel reminded me of David Mamet’s Oleanna – two characters, the older male and established, the younger female and precariously positioned in early adulthood, a confined space, cross-cutting sexual innuendo, and all kinds of emotions on hyperdrive.

But what I would really like to see rendered on stage is the avalanche. There are two key avalanche scenes (not including the final one, in which Eric and Danielle see the cabin fall in the river after they have escaped). The first takes place on the second night of their confinement. They hear a loud noise – snow and/or ice falling off trees or other heights behind them – and then one wall of the cabin is uprooted from its foundation. Two huge pine branches (they are described as “trunk-size”) enter the cabin in the place where the wall used to be. Eric and Danielle work frantically; they nail a large wool blanket where the missing wall used to be and then burn as much wood as they possibly can in the wood stove in hope that the heat will cause the wall of snow where the cabin’s wall used to be to freeze and therefore provide stability and prevent the cabin from falling down the hill any farther. It works for a while – until the second avalanche scene, which I’ll tell you about in just a moment. This process of nailing up the blanket and melting some of the snow and then letting it solidify as ice takes quite a while, and it is really suspenseful. I thought of Stephen King often – partly for the Maine setting, of course, but also because Roorbach’s ability to convey suspense in characters pushed to their absolute limits rivals King’s.

The second avalanche scene takes place right after Eric wakes up and leaves the cabin to scout out possible avenues of escape while Danielle is still asleep in the loft. He comes back to the cabin in a good mood: he has begun clearing a path and has decided that the best route is not to walk uphill the way they came in but to follow the ledge above the river until they reach a highway overpass that Eric knows is a mile away – all of this is more difficult than it sounds, of course, because over six feet of snow have fallen, so the path Eric clears for them looks more like the Minotaur’s labyrinth than like a nice clear, salted path on the campus of a New England campus. He enters the cabin ready to announce his plan to Danielle, but he finds her absolutely irate at him for leaving. She stands in the sleeping loft (the requisite allusions to Romeo and Juliet are all in order, Your Honor) and pulls the ladder up so he can’t come up to her. First, she works her way through a box of matches, lighting them one by one and flinging them down to the first floor while Eric stomps them out and pleads with her to stop and reminds her that they spilled kerosene on the floor the night before. Item by item, she throws every single object in the loft at Eric, beginning with the matches and proceeding through the bed frame and mattress, the contents of a small bookcase, and even the bucket in which she has been peeing, which she aims directly at his face, thoroughly soaking him. Finally, she takes off her clothes and throws each item at Eric one by one: enormous coat, multiple layers of sweaters and pants, threadbare underwear. At that moment, when she is naked and screaming bloody murder at Eric for leaving the cabin without her, the floor of the cabin gives way again. They both turn and watch the stovepipe disengage from the wall since the floor that is holding it is inching away from the back wall. It’s a fantastic scene, full of everything that makes good drama: the undeserved abuse of a decent guy, absolutely soul-rupturing madness, dozens of tiny fire hazards, nudity, imminent death of all parties. A play adaptation of this novel would need to have some kind of parental advisory attached to it, yes – and any theatre that produced it would have to take out some extra fire insurance, and there would have to be some panels on the stage that could move independently from the rest of the stage to simulate the avalanche (but that wouldn’t be a problem for a decent professional theatre, would it?) – but the extra trouble would be worth it.

I know you’re probably thinking that I’ve given everything away in this review, but I really haven’t. There’s lots more, and while I like the idea of a play based on this novel more than I like the novel itself, I still recommend it – especially for a flight or a beach vacation or an afternoon at the DMV, or even a long holiday weekend like the one we have coming up in a few days. If you live in San Francisco, you’re welcome to borrow my copy.

Posted in Authors, Biil Roorbach, Fiction - general, Reviews by Bethany | Leave a comment

Yarn Along

EDSTROM - WIN_20141118_114329

I’m not reading all of the books in this photo, but I might as well be. My life for the last couple of weeks has been a chaotic mess of knitting, reading, writing, and hurting, with an emphasis on knitting and hurting. My memory may be inaccurate, but I think I’ve had more pain in the last six weeks  than I did in the weeks and months before I quit my job because I was in too much pain to function – which is scary because even though it took me way too long to work up the courage to quit, I always knew that option was available. What comes after quitting your job? You don’t have to answer that.

The photo shows an almost-completed sleeve of an adult rollneck sweater. It’s in my size, but I’m not sure if it will end up being for me or if I will give it as a gift. We’ll see.

Here’s another photo. I like photos with angles.

EDSTROM - WIN_20141118_114359

If all goes well, by this coming weekend I will have finished at least a couple of the many, many books I’m reading and will be able to get some decent blogging done. In the meantime, Happy Wednesday!

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

Posted in Yarn Along | 9 Comments

Final Thoughts on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (by Bethany)

this side of paradise cover image

As I’ve made clear before, I did not enjoy This Side of Paradise one bit. I was a little surprised, because I imagined that Fitzgerald was so adept with language that any book he might write would be worth reading if only for its sentences. While it’s true that over the course of this novel it is possible to see signs that Fitzgerald is slowly coming into his own as a writer, as a rule this novel’s language is just as banal as its subject matter. I see absolutely no evidence in the pages of this book that in only five years’ time its author will have the skill and dexterity to write The Great Gatsby. What happened in those five years – Paris? Alcohol? Zelda? A sense of competitiveness with Hemingway and Faulkner? This question is the most interesting one that emerged out of this book for me.

This Side of Paradise is about Amory Blaine’s “rise” (it’s more of an endless plateau, actually) from pampered child to deceitful prep-school student, and from there to an obnoxious social-climbing Princeton undergraduate and bitter, simpering young adult who can’t understand why his girlfriends always leave him. Amory’s childhood is fractured by the financial situation of his parents: his aristocratic European mother, Beatrice (sentences about Beatrice tend to end with exclamation points) and his humdrum father, “an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopedia Britannica” who “hovered in the background of his family’s life, an unassertive figure with a face half-obliterated by lifeless, silky hair, continually occupied by ‘taking care’ of his wife, continually harassed by the idea that he didn’t and couldn’t understand her” (9).

Where’s Freud when you need him?

Amory’s struggles to find meaningful relationships with girls and women are an ongoing (and entirely boring) element of the novel. Beginning with a “bobbing party” in late childhood – an event that seems like something Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie ought to have been involved in – that culminates in his first kiss, and proceeding through a college romance with a girl from his hometown to a post-college romance with a college friend’s sister Rosalind, which ends when Rosalind realizes that Amory does not have enough money to support her in the manner to which she has been accustomed, Amory seems to have inherited or absorbed his father’s inability to be a force for good in a relationship with a woman, and he never stops feeling victimized by his own ineptitude, which he always manages to blame on someone: he mother, his father, the girls themselves, the girls’ mothers, and so forth.’

It seems to me that this novel is inextricably a product of its times. I’m no scholar of the 1890’s through the 1910’s, but because World War I so thoroughly shattered first Europe and then the United States out of the innocence and frivolity of these years, I have become aware that these years were innocent and frivolous – and this novel certainly portrays them in this way. Young male Ivy League undergraduates in this novel, for example, spend more time “linking arms and singing” than the entire rest of the human race put together, and all kinds of fusses are made over dance cards and those sorts of things. Works of art whose purpose is to capture a place, an era, and a culture often do not age well. They become textbooks rather than art. I can imagine this novel being taught in a social history or cultural anthropology course about American society at the turn of the twentieth century, but I see little use for it as a novel.

That said, this novel certainly qualifies as a central text of the Jazz Age. Like A Moveable Feast – which is usually categorized as nonfiction – this novel spends a good bit of time complaining about the fact that life in the post-war years is empty and meaningless. In spite of the vague, dismissive way Amory’s service in World War I and even the death of several of his friends is treated in the novel (it’s not quite “a vast Teutonic migration,” but it’s close), Amory expounds to his friend Tom that the war “certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation” (203). “Oh Lord,” he expounds, “what a pleasure it used to be to dream I might be a great dictator (!!) or writer or religious or political leader – and now even a Leonardo Da Vinci or Lorenzo de Medici couldn’t be a real old-fashioned bolt in the world. Life is too huge and complex. The world is so overgrown that it can’t lift its own fingers, and I was planning to be such an important finger” (204 – the exclamation points after ‘dictator’ are my own).

This novel seems to be trying to do something experimental with genre, though these experiments are too timid to work very well. Two portions of the novel are inexplicably told in the form of short plays. I do think I understand the reason for this genre switch: it allows Fitzgerald to write scenes in which Amory is not present, in spite of the fact that the novel as a whole is told from his point of view. I didn’t especially like this technique, but I also have a history of complaining when novelists shift their point of view around willy-nilly, so I suppose Fitzgerald’s solution to this problem is as good as any. Furthermore, the novel is subdivided not only into relatively long (and titled) chapters but also into subsections that are also titled. At times it is common for two or three of these sections to fit on a single set of facing pages. These titles are often a little on the pretentious side: “In the Drooping Hours” (248), “The Collapse of Several Pillars” (241), “Amory on the Labor Question” (196), “The Superman Grows Careless” (96), and so forth. These little subtitles reminded me of the titled sections of each episode of Frasier (remember those – they would appear every 8-10 minutes throughout each episode, every time a new scene began?), and at times the outward pretention combined with inward loneliness and self-loathing reminded me of some of the characters in Frasier, a show that I very much enjoyed. I thought for a while about why I disliked this novel so much when it reminded me of a show that I liked, but then I realized: Frasier is a comedy. It wants to be laughed at, and the comic form gives us the unstated promise that the characters will all eventually be okay, while This Side of Paradise takes itself painfully seriously. It’s impossible for me to read it without being constantly aware of the huge boulder that Amory’s speeding train will crash headlong into sometime in the second half of 1929. Fitzgerald didn’t know about the Great Depression, of course, but in both this novel and The Great Gatsby he seems to have a certain intuition that something is coming that will make people like Amory Blaine immediately and catastrophically irrelevant.

I never would have finished this novel if it hadn’t been for the Numbers Challenge, and of course I’m glad that I read it. The fact that this precursor to The Great Gatsby is of such questionable quality makes Gatsby all the more of a singularity, and therefore more impressive. The early works of some great writers feel like dress rehearsals for their later work, but this novel feels less like a dress rehearsal and more like the work of an entirely different writer – it almost makes me wonder if some kind of life-altering event took place between 1920 and 1925 (again – Paris? Alcohol? Zelda?) that affected Fitzgerald so thoroughly that it created a fissure in his work that divides what came before from what came after.

Posted in Authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, The Numbers Challenge | 8 Comments

In which Jill reflects on twenty years “in the Blood” and reviews Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat

Prince-Lestat

I finished Prince Lestat tonight. I should have finished it on Thursday but I had to take a nap or two that day. And last night I fell asleep with thirty pages to go. It’s not that I was bored, I really wasn’t. But the hubby and I are getting back on the exercising wagon this week and my dog has a situation with his one remaining eye and my mind has not been one hundred percent focused on much of anything besides the pain in my quads and the fact that my dog is going to be sixteen and how long can he possibly live? But I was supposed to be talking about the first Vampire Chronicle since 2003. See what I mean? I’ve been scatterbrained lately.

But I digress. I really did enjoy Prince Lestat, despite how long it took me to get through the last part of it. I wasn’t necessarily expecting the ending (no spoilers here, so stop looking), but once it happened I was not surprised at all. It seemed like it was what was meant to happen all along, or what Anne Rice was working towards, but I’m not sure. She of all people has always seemed to espouse the existentialist philosophy of life being essentially meaningless. But perhaps she has changed over the years. Haven’t we all?

I first read Anne Rice when I was a senior in high school. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I first tried to read Anne Rice when I was maybe a junior in high school. I bought The Witching Hour and tried to read it but I couldn’t get into it. I actually didn’t read the Mayfair Witches series until I was in vet school, and it was cool, but got weird, and I’ve always preferred Anne’s vamps to her witches anyway. I remember stalking the Vampire Chronicles in bookstores in the months before Christmas of 1993, and my mom bought them for me for Christmas that year. I read Interview, The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned over Christmas break. I remember those days so clearly. I could read and read and watch TV and listen to music and never take naps. Ah, to be sixteen again. I loved these books so much. And then I read The Tale of the Body Thief. And that one wasn’t as good. And in 1995 I read Memnoch the Devil, and that book was traumatic. Where were all the wonderful characters from The Queen of the Damned, and why in the hell is Lestat laying in a deserted mansion in New Orleans in some sort of coma? Anyway, I kind of gave up on Anne Rice for a while after that. I got caught up on the series in vet school, during systemic pathology the winter of my second year, and felt like the series was regaining some of its old momentum. But the book I was waiting for still hadn’t turned up. And then, in the fall of 2014, it finally did.

Prince Lestat revisits all the characters we met in The Queen of the Damned, at later points in the series, and introduces some new ones. In the twenty-nine years since the events of that book, the vampires have proliferated again, and the Burnings are starting again, just like they did when Akasha woke up back in the day. I mentioned The Voice in my first post about Prince Lestat. Turns out that The Voice is actually Amel, the demon who possessed Akasha six thousand years ago. Somehow he has become self-aware, and is directing ancient, powerful vampires to kill off the younger vampires of the world, in order to consolidate his energies into fewer vampires. Thankfully, Anne doesn’t even try to get into the genetics/physiology of this creature. I was worried that she would (see my first post), but she doesn’t. All we really get is that the “bulk” of Amel, such as he is, is in The Sacred Core, which is in Mekare, but he also has bits of himself in every single vampire on earth. And at that point she stops trying to explain. And that was for the best, because it’s pretty obvious technology and science are not Anne Rice’s strong suits. It’s fine with me if she leaves it all mostly mysterious rather than doing a poor job of using a medical vocabulary.

In this book, we also get to meet some other spirits and some ghosts. I would have liked to have spent more time with these folks because they seemed interesting. I couldn’t make up my mind while I was reading if Rice was tying up loose ends with this book, or getting ready to start a new phase of the Vampire Chronicles. I really hope it isn’t the end, because I really do enjoy reading about these characters, and now that Lestat is less filled with ennui and has a purpose in life, it’d be nice to see what he does with his life.

Ultimately, it seems to me that this book was about redemption for the vampires. They come to see themselves less as undead things, less as The Children of Darkness, and more as the People of the Savage Garden (paraphrased from p. 425), less as a bunch of isolated individuals, and more as a tribe. At the end they are no longer alone, none of them. After The Queen of the Damned I thought they would all stay in contact, but they didn’t. I hope that now they do, and Anne Rice writes many, many more books about their adventures. Yes, this is my sixteen-year-old self emerging to make herself known on the internet. I know there’s at least a sixty percent chance that Anne Rice will never write about Lestat again. She might never write another book again. She could decide to become Catholic again and join a convent.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read at least the first three books of the Vampire Chronicles. But for me, it was a book I’ve been waiting to read since I was sixteen, and I’m so glad I finally got to read it. No, it’s not perfect. But I don’t think that any of Anne Rice’s books are. I didn’t know that when I first started reading them, just like I couldn’t see how perfect The Portrait of a Lady was when I tried to read it a couple of months before I read the Vampire Chronicles. There is comfort in reading authors you’ve read for years and years, even if it’s not high quality fiction. It’s sort of like coming home, and recently that is what I’ve needed.

Posted in Anne Rice, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, Fiction - Vampire Porn, Reviews by Jill | 4 Comments

Yarn Along

Yarn Along 11.12.14

I’ve gotten a lot of work done on  the child-size rollneck sweater I started last week. I’ve been watching the TV series The West Wing over again, start to finish, and the hours just fly by. I’ve finished the front, the back, and one sleeve, and the second sleeve is almost done. As always, I’m approaching Christmas with  a ridiculously ambitious list of homemade gifts I want to give. There will be some painful decisions to make in the next few weeks. One can only do so much.

In the photo above, you can see the two colors I’m using: dark mallard green and a medium blue. The back and one sleeve will be green; the front and the other sleeve will be blue. I’ve knit this basic rollneck pattern at least 20-30 times, and I love inventing new ways to vary the color and texture each time.

I’m also helping a teenage friend of mine learn to knit. She picked up the knit and purl stitches and has a nice little stockinette swatch made, but whenever she tries to practice on her own, she thinks she’s making mistakes and stops. I wish I could summon Tilda, the woman who taught me to knit. She was so good at deflecting my attention away from mistakes and on to what I could do with the skills I already had (which, once one knows the knit and purl stitches, is almost anything, really). Tilda taught me to cast on over the phone. That’s how much of a knitting badass she was. 

I’m still not enjoying This Side of Paradise one bit, and no one is more surprised about this turn of events than I am. I’m close to finishing it, and I’ve thought of some amusing ways to mock it, so I should have a review posted by the end of this week.

Also on my mind this week: The advantages and drawbacks of a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal. A wild life change I’m considering. My deep affection for the term “myoclonic jerk.” The fact that I wish I spoke at least a dozen languages.

As always, Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

 

Posted in Yarn Along | 2 Comments