Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Richard Yates is one of those authors who I have heard a great deal about, but had never actually read. For example, I read Richard Yates by Tao Lin. I probably missed out on a few things in reading that, because Lin was likely commenting on the vision of America embodied by Yates and I was not yet personally familiar with Yates. In any event, I was excited to get a chance to read Revolutionary Road.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 8th for Kate Atkinson, no relation to me that I’m aware of, and 8th for Judy Budnitz.)

Now, I had always heard that Revolutionary Road was a scathing indictment of suburban America penned at the early onset of such. To be honest, I’m not sure I agree with that.

I’d also heard that the book was about a pair of characters who are on the verge of uprooting their lives so that they can move to Paris and let the husband realize his potential as a writer, painter, or otherwise great thinker, but that alcohol and infidelity destroy them first. I’m not so sure I agree with that either. Perhaps I’m just feeling disagreeable.

However, presuming that I’m not just being contrary, maybe I should talk about the book a bit. We have Frank and April Wheeler, people who always talked big about Frank’s ideas and how much they hated the “hopeless emptiness” in which most suburban people lived their lives. However, because April becomes pregnant, they put dreams on hold, move to the suburbs, and Frank gets a job that he doesn’t take seriously. Still, they hold on in the midst of this, Frank being of the opinion that “the important thing was to keep from being contaminated…to remember who you were.”

Of course, they don’t. Eventually April realizes that they are becoming all the things that they both despise:

“I was bored. That’s part of what I’m trying to say. I don’t think I’ve ever been more bored and depressed and fed up in my life than I was last night. All that business about Helen Giving’s son on top of everything else, and the way we all grabbed at it like dogs after meat; I remember looking at you and thinking ‘God, if only he’d stop talking.’ Because everything you said was based on this great premise of ours that we’re somehow very special and superior to the whole thing, and I wanted to say ‘But we’re not! Look at us! We’re just like the people you’re talking about! We are the people you’re talking about!’

So, she offers Frank a plan where they will sell their house and move to Paris. He will be free to finally find himself and she will work to support the family.

But, does Frank go for it? Well, he does at first. However, his hated job starts becoming important to him, though he won’t admit it. Soon he finds a way (greatly assisted) to avoid having to live the dream because, really (though again, he won’t admit it), they never had any promise that they weren’t fulfilling. Eventually, April realizes all this (or most of it anyway) and actually says it out loud.

So, is this an indictment of suburbia? I don’t see how it really could be. The rot inside the relationship between Frank and April is present long before they move to suburbia. Suburbia exemplifies many of the things they rail against, and it is indeed the setting for their meltdown, but the problems represented by Frank and April seem to me to be much, much larger than just the modern suburban phenomenon in America.

The next question, then, is whether or not alcohol and infidelity destroy Frank and April’s chance at fulfilling their dreams. Again, I don’t think this is the case. Sure, there is some excessive drinking and some sleeping around. Sure, this would have been a major problem only if things had been fine otherwise. But, things had not been fine otherwise.

Frank’s conception of his own identity has always been of a gifted man who only needed the freedom to find himself and had to live out his life burdened by the fact that he’d never get the chance. Only, as Frank discovers when the chance is presented (though he may not admit it to himself)…this is just a pose. April discovers she is posing too and has been since she started posing that she was in love with Frank and believed in his potential. Frank and April are not actually destroyed by alcohol and infidelity, at least as I saw it. To the contrary, the alcohol and infidelity just seem like incidental aspects of their posing and their eventual realization that they are just posing. Frankly, an inherent flaw that they have carried with them from their beginning is what destroys Frank and April.

Having decided that I don’t completely agree with the views on Revolutionary Road which I have heard, I suppose we are left with what I do think this book is about. Rather than an indictment of suburbia, Revolutionary Road seems to me to be an indictment of fallibility humanity. We live our lives telling others and ourselves lies in order to get through the day. We sometimes try to be good to one another, but we rarely end up being what others need (and they might not deserve us to be anyway). Frank and April have their specific scenario which isn’t the life everyone lives, but it is just the example.

Come to think of it, indictment might not even be the right word. We just hope for things and life never quite meets up with our hopes. The rest is just a part of that. It’s sad, but it’s just part of being alive as a human being in the world.

At least, that’s my take on it. Regardless, I found Revolutionary Road to be a beautiful, if sad, book.

Genesis–Part 2

I have divided Genesis into 3 parts.  Though not as long as some books, it does take awhile for me to read sections of the Bible.

I apologize for the lateness of this post.  I present the reasons of Thanksgiving and all night Black Friday shopping.

For a list of which authors listed the Bible as one of their top ten, and why it’s important in the realm of literature, see my original post.  In this blog post I’ll talk about the following:  the story of Abraham and Sarah,  the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of Lot and his family, Isaac and Rebecca, and Esau and Jacob.

Abraham was originally called Abram.  Sarah was originally Sarai.  Sarai was barren.  She made Abraham take her maidservant Hagar.    Sarai was very cruel to Hagar, so she ran away.   An angel of God came to Hagar and asked why she was running away, she replied that she was running from Sarai.  The angel told her to return to Sarai and serve her.  He promised her  “I will increase your descendants that they will become too numerous to count.  You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael.  for the Lord has heard of your miser.  He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.  And so Islam was born.  Then God came to him “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God”.  Then the covenant of circumcision was born, as God required that as Abram’s end of the covenant.  He pronounced that Abram (99 years old) was to get circumcised, as well as all of the males of his household.  He said any male at eight days old was to be circumcised.  At this point, Ishmael was thirteen.  Arabs, those of Islam faith, consider themselves descendants of Ishmael, so circumcise when the boy is thirteen.  He promised Abram that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky.  At this, Abram wondered, as his wife, Sarai was quite old.  They were both nearing 100.  God promised him though, renaming Sarai, Sarah.  Time passed.  Sarah was still barren.  God told him he would have a son, and name him Isaac.  Sarah laughed upon hearing the repeat of God’s promise by God outside of their tent.  God replied “Why did Sarah laugh and say ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son”.  Then the angels and God were to go to Sodom, to destroy it, as it was completely infested with sin.  Abraham pleaded for Sodom asking if God was to find x amount (he started at fifty and worked down to ten, possibly in an attempt to save his nephew Lot and his household) would he save those people even as he destroyed Sodom.  God replied He would.  He and his angels came into Sodom and the men captured the angels and wanted to do very very bad things to them, the things that often happen in all male prisons nowadays.  Lot pleaded that the men of Sodom (as he had recognized the visitors as God’s angels) to take his (Lot’s) daughters instead, virgins, and that the men could do what they wanted with his daughters.  They then told Lot that they would treat him worse than the angels, as he was an outsider who had moved to Sodom.  The angels told Lot to take his family and flee.  He told his family, but his sons-in-laws (which confuses me and my self study Bible doesn’t explain, if Lot’s daughters were virgins, how did they have husbands?  My only thought can be that they were fiancees who were already called sons-in-laws, or else Lot’s daughters were very special virgins indeed), laughed at him.  The angels grabbed Lot’s hands, those of his wife, and those of his daughters and led them out of the city.  The city was then destroyed.  Lot’s wife, disobeying the angels of the Lord, looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  Apparently, the southern end of the  Dead Sea, even today, salt formations exist that are reminders of her fate.  Lot and his daughters end up hiding in a cave.  The daughers are scared that their line will die out, so get their father drunk and force him into sexual intercourse.  (Note; this is where the promised incest in the last entry is).  The older bore Moab, the younger Ben-Ammi.  The narrative then goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who are in a foreign land.  Now, Abraham liked to lie and say that his 90 year old attractive wife was his sister.  The ruler became upset with Abraham as Sarah was very desirable and men wanted her, but to lay with Sarah would have been a great offense, since she was Abraham’s wife and not his sister.  (Abraham would say this out of fear for his own life, that she would be desired and he would be killed in order for a man to have her).

Skipping ahead to Isaac and Rebekah.  Abraham on his deathbed, makes his servant promise to go back to his homeland to find Isaac a wife (the Lord had told him to not find one for Isaac in the land they currently lived).  The servant prayed that when he got to the town, the woman meant for Isaac would offer him and his camels water.  Rebekah did.  They went back to her home, and when her father heard, he willingly gave Rebekah.  She was Abraham’s great niece.  She wed Isaac in Sarah’s tent.  Abraham died and left everything to Isaac, but gave the sons of his wives after Sarah died, gifts.  Ishmael’s sons are also named, and the last part of that section says “And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers”.  Rebekah became pregnant with twins, who began fighting even in her womb “The babies jostled each other within her”.  She asks the Lord why is this happening?  This was the response; “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated;  one people will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger”  (in direct contradiction of the rules of the time that said the eldest inherits and the younger serves the elder).  The boys come from the womb and Esau is hairy and redhaired from birth.  Jacob, smooth and not redhaired from birth.  When the boys grew, Esau became a skillful hunter, Jacob a quiet man, staying among the tents.  Esau was Isaac’s favorite, Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite.  When Isaac was on his deathbed, he told Esau to go hunt two animals down, fine specimens, and to bring them back for Isaac, and he would bestow his blessing on him.  Rebekah heard this, and conniving little liar that she was, called Jacob to her.  Isaac had gone blind.  She told Jacob to go find two young goats and to slaughter them.  He wondered how Jacob would mistake them as Esau was so hairy and he so smooth.  Rebekah attached goat hides to Jacob’s hands.  Isaac was suspicious when Jacob went to him, but bestowed the blessing anyway; “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness–an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers and may the soons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed”.  Jacob leaves.  Esau comes and Isaac is upset, saying that he already gave his blessing to Jacob.  Esau begs for a blessing, even one, from his father.  He gets “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.  You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.  But when you grow restless you will throw his yoke from off your neck”.  Jacob flees to Laban, out of fear of what Esau will do, having been warned by his mother.  Before he goes, Isaac Isaac tells him to not marry a Canaanite woman, but to return to where Rebekah lived, and to take a wife there from the daughers of Laban, Rebekah’s brother.

Jacob goes to Laban.  Laban has two daughters.  Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but she has an older sister, Leah.  After a month there, Laban asks Jacob what he would like his wages to be.  Jacob states that he would work for Laban for seven years, and then would like to marry Rebekah.  Laban tricks Jacob and gives him Leah instead.  The day after the wedding night, Jacob is understandably upset and goes to Laban “What is this you have done to me?  I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?  Why have you deceived me?”.  Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work”.  Jacob agrees, loving Rebekah like he does.  Laban gives him Rachel right away, after Leah’s wedding week is over.  Leah bears Jacob sons, including Levi, whom the future priests, or Levites descended from.  As well as Judah, who was the ancestor of David and ultimately of Jesus.  Rachel becomes jealous of Leah’s fertility, as she is barren at that point.  She tells Jacob “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  Jacob asks her “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”.  She then gives him Bilhah, her servant, so he can sleep with her to bear children that Rachel can claim.  Leah stops having children so has Jacob lie with Zilpah, her servant.  Leah keeps having children.  Then finally God remembers Rachel; He listens to her and opens her womb.  She names her son Joseph.  Jacob works a deal with Laban to build a herd by taking the spotted and marked goats from his flocks.  Laban, showing his brotherhood to Rebekah, takes all those animals out of his herd and spirits them away.  Jacob begins to have the herd drink from water with branches from poplar, almond and plane trees that he marked with stripes.  The flock that drank from these became spotted.  Jacob eventually flees from Laban, having had his wages changed ten times and having served Laban for twenty years.  Rachel steals Laban’s idols before leaving, showing that she hasn’t quite given up her pagan ways.  Laban chases down Jacob, demanding why he felt the need to steal from him.  Jacob is confused and tells Laban to search the tents, and if he finds the idols, Jacob will kill the person that has them.  Rachel, showing that family’s deceptive streak (Jacob does too), puts them under her saddle.  She tells her father she has her period so cannot climb down.  He believes her and idols are never found.  And this is where I leave you in the narrative.

Faith standpoint:  For me, all these stories are important.  Even before Jesus comes and saves us, all these people in Genesis were making big mistakes.  The Ten Commandments weren’t around yet, but they lied, mated with their daughters (though the daughters were more to blame than the father in this endeavour), they did not trust in God (Sarai and Hagar).  Oh!  Forgot the story of Abraham and Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham, though of course he didn’t want to murder his promised descendant for a sacrifice, obeys.  God intervenes at the last moment, telling Abraham that because of his faithfulness, He is sparing Isaac.  This isn’t something done wrong, but rather right, but since I forgot that story wanted to get it in there.  This sacrifice, this instant, predicts the future sacrifice of God’s own son, Jesus.  Also, back after Adam & Eve are cast from Eden, God makes it pretty clear that He intends for women to become of one flesh with their husbands, thereby dictating that a man should have only one wife.  Obviously, from above, you can see that they didn’t exactly listen to that.  They were fornicating everywhere.  Also, there is doubt of God’s promise, when Sarah laughs at God’s promise.  Anyway, it’s a hopeful thing to me, that all throughout the Bible, there are people messing up, and God still considering them as His.  There are times when it hits me, how much of a sinner I am.  I think this is important to understanding the grace of God and Jesus’s death.  It always bugs me when I go to a church where there is no confession of your sins (in Protestant churches, this takes place as a group confession, with the belief that you can go directly to God with your personal sins instead of the confessional).  I don’t like churches that only focus on grace, that make you believe and feel that you are perfect once you are “born again”, as the death of Christ only promises that you will continue to be forgiven, but that you still want to endeavour to lead a godly life.  I dislike churches that _only_ focus on God’s love.  I believe that one can’t truly appreciate the complete grace and understand it, without understanding the complete miserableness that sin makes us.  /end rant.  Also, for me, there is the beginnings of the promise of Christ that help me to understand the eventual events leading up to that sacrifice.

Literary standpoint:  The stories are fascinating to me.  I mean, you have conflict everywhere, you have people fighting, lying, fornicating.  It’s a very engaging read, even with the brevity of each story and the lack of detail as to how the sand got in their eyes and their hair, etc etc.  Also, I think it was Wally Lamb, in “This Much I know is True” (if I have misnamed the title, forgive me) who reference Jacob and Esau.  I find references all the time to the above stories in both classic and current literature.   With the amount I read, I see it all a lot.  I’m sure Dave can also attest to the recurrent themes that began from day 1.  There is a story coming up in the last part of Genesis that I can directly correlate to a classic novel, but I will leave you in suspense until next time to find that out.

Tune in next time to hear about sibling rivalry, selling your siblings into slavery, dream prophecies, and of course the famed multi colored coat.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

I know that writing the summary for the back of a book can be an extremely difficult job. An attempt must be made to distill an entire book into a simple, cursory paragraph. Still, the reading public relies on these summaries. Sometimes, some success is achieved. Other times, I wonder whether or not I read the same book as the person who wrote the summary. Some books are surely harder than others, and surely there can be debate as to what a book is really about, but sometimes the summary just seems to cover only a portion of the book with no real comprehension of the book as a whole. I reflected upon this in particular after finishing Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was for 9th for Kathryn Harrison.)

Considering Midnight’s Children, I suppose I should discuss a little of what the back of the book says. Most of the back details how the main character, Saleem Sinai, is born at the exact moment that the modern nation of India is born (i.e., freed from imperial British control). Because of this coincidence, Saleem develops telepathic powers and a connection to the 1000 other ‘midnight’s children’ (the other children born on this day). This is the bulk of the summary, only the last sentence discussing how Saleem is linked to the nation and how his story mirrors the “disasters and triumphs” of modern India.

Really, this made me think I was in for a much different story than I ended up reading. I suppose I should have known better after reading The Satanic Verses, but (like so often happens when I should know better) I didn’t.

Mind you, the above does describe an aspect of the book. It is true that this accident of birth, these powers, and the 1001 midnight’s children are focal aspects of Saleem’s identity. Indeed, Rushdie and Saleem spend a good amount of time talking about the children:

Midnight’s children!…From Kerala, a boy who had the ability of stepping into mirrors and re-emerging through any reflective surface in the land–through lakes and (with greater difficulty) the polished metal of automobiles…and a Goanese girl with the gift of multiplying fish…and children with powers of transformation: a werewolf from the Nilgiri Hills, and from the great watershed of the Vindhyas, a boy who could increase or reduce his size at will, and had already (mischievously) been the cause of wild panic and rumors of the return of Giants…from Kashmir, there was a blue-eyed child of whose original sex I was never certain, since by immersing herself in water he (or she) could alter it as she (or he) pleased.

All these children with magical abilities, with Saleem as the oldest and purportedly most powerful, telepathically connected to the rest.

However, Saleem’s powers (and indeed the midnight’s children themselves) are only a portion of Saleem’s life, and thereby his story. Saleem also talks about his family:

One Kashmiri morning in the early spring of 1915, my grandfather Aadam Aziz hit his nose against a frost-hardened tussock of earth while attempting to pray. Three drops of blood plopped out of his left nostril, hardened instantly in the brittle air and lay before his eyes on his prayer-mat, transformed into rubies. Lurching back until he knelt with his head once more upright, he found that the tears which had sprung to his eyes had solidified, too; and at that moment, as he brushed diamonds contemptuously from his lashes, he resolved never again to kiss earth for any god or man.

and India (not to mention Pakistan and Bangladesh, as there is no way to discuss the birth of modern India without discussing Pakistan and Bangladesh):

The day of November 20th was a terrible day; the night was a terrible night…six days earlier, on Nehru’s seventy-third birthday, the great confrontation with the Chinese forces had begun; the Indian army–JAWANS SWING INTO ACTION! –had attached the Chinese at Walong. News of the disaster of Walong, and the rout of General Kaul and four battalions, reached Nehru on Saturday 18th; on Monday 20th, it flooded through radio and press and arrived at Methwold’s Estate. ULTIMATE PANIC IN NEW DELHI! INDIAN FORCES IN TATTERS! That day–the last day of my old life–I sat huddled with my sister and parents around our Telefunken radiogram, while telecommunications struck the feat of God and China into our hearts. And my father now said a fateful thing: “Wife,” he intoned gravely, while Jamila and I shook with fear, “Begum Sahiba, this country is finished. Bankrupt. Funtoosh.” The evening paper proclaimed the end of the optimism disease: PUBLIC MORALE DRAINS AWAY. And after that end, there were others to come; other things would also drain away.

In fact, though Saleem narrates the whole book as he supposedly writes it, he isn’t even born until about a fifth of the way through. Really, there is much more than supernatural powers, more than the midnight’s children, more than even Saleem.

In particular, I don’t think the magical powers are at the center of this book because Saleem and the other children never really get together and DO anything significant with their powers. The use them on an individual scale, but the same kinds of problems that face the entire region at this time manifest in the children. They affect their world, but their world also affects them.

If there is any accuracy in the summary, I would find it in that last sentence. Saleem leads a blessed life yet disasters occur with frightening regularity, just like the modern course of the entire region. There is an amazing amount of intelligence and incredible ability, but the complexity and history in which it is mired confuses everything to the point of chaos. Frankly, though, life goes on regardless.

Now, I really probably shouldn’t have spent this entire review bashing the summary. In reality, even though I don’t think it encapsulates the book too well, it isn’t bad. I certainly couldn’t have done any better. This book has thousands of narrative lines, just like India/Pakistan/Bangladesh. There just may not be a way of turning it all into a single cloth.

Truth be told, I just thought this discussion of the summary was a really good way of talking about the complexity and multifaceted nature of the book. Bashing the summary was just a vehicle and I mean no real malice against it.

In the end, I did enjoy this book a great deal. The story is rich and compelling, though difficult to hold in your fist at any particular moment. I did find it easier to understand than The Satanic Verses, but that isn’t necessarily saying that much. Regardless, whether or not it is one of the best books of all time, Midnight’s Children is certainly a good one. Thankfully, I don’t have to summarize it in a paragraph.

Bereshith! (Or as we like to call it in English…Genesis)

So.  One of the books in the Top Ten is the Bible.  Dave gladly gave me the opportunity to read it and blog about it.  Now all of you know, the Bible isn’t a short work by any means.   Which means, there will be multiple entries by me on parts of the Bible.  (which I know, might take us to like 12.5 years of books, but hey, the Bible is LONG.  I’ve been reading from it for most of my life and I can say I’ve probably only read about half of it and in piece meal).

A lot of the books of the Bible are shorter, so can be read multiple ones at once.  Genesis is not one of those books.  In fact Genesis has so much happening that I’m splitting it up into two (translation:  I got caught up in the footnotes and sidenotes in my study Bible, so ergo did not finish the entire book of Genesis) parts.  I’ll put up the 2nd blog about Genesis in the next couple of days, Dave will then be back next Thursday with another book.

I’m not sure if I will just keep with the Bible until done with it, or if I’ll read parts, then read something else to blog about and return.  Just letting you know that in advance.

The Bible has six authors that listed it in their top ten.  Andrew Hudgins, Haven Kimmel, Erin McGraw, Richard Powers, Robert Pinsky and James Salter all listed it in their top ten.

I know you’re probably wondering why the Bible is even important to you if you’re not Christian.  Why it’s something that as a book lover, you should even be interested in.  Andrew Hudgins wrote about this in The Top Ten.  He points out that the Bible is a great story itself, also “The Bible is also the source of great stories, by geniuses from Dante to Dostoevsky, Faulkner to Thomas Mann, and the poetry of the Psalms echoes through great poetry from William Blake to Walt Whitman to T.S. Eliot”.  He also says “”the greatest story ever told”, in the majesty of its telling and the power of its message, has taught an entire culture how to think about love, suffering, and transcendence, and it has fundamentally colored the language by which we talk about everything.”  And this is why it’s important, even if not a believer. 

My whole lead in above is also why I’ve split Genesis up into two blogs (I know, it sounds handy, like I’m just making sure that it sounds more planned, but I would have done it whether I had the entire thing ready to talk about or not.  None of y’all came here to read term papers).

Genesis has strongly been held throughout the centuries to have been written by Moses.  It is the first book of the five books that the Jewish religion called “the five fifths of the law (of Moses)”.  Genesis truly is about beginnings, starting with the story of creation, but also of sin and redemption, of blessing and cursing, of society, of marriage and family.  And really, Genesis also is instrumental in understanding the rest of the Bible.  The promise of Christ begins when God curses the serpent and his role in the downfall of Adam and Eve.  Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel”.  ( Sin and the serpent were crushed by Christ’s death on the cross, but in the doing so, Jesus was mortally wounded).  And all through the book of Genesis and the Old Testament itself, the promise of Jesus’s coming and salvation go through it.

Genesis is a prose style book.  It’s divided up into ten “accounts”  (the sections start with the word account somewhere in there, Gen 2:4 “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.)  There are a few poetic moments in the book.  There is a lyricism to Genesis, and it is rich.  Read it aloud sometime or listen to it read aloud and you will see the lyricism.

First is the creation.  In the Bible it takes six days.  I do not have the interest nor the time to debate about each particular point as I go through here, I am reporting what the text says.  You are free to think the days were actually six 24 hour periods, that each day means a million years, that the story is merely a story.  Some of what I write will be directly related to my own faith, but please remember that mostly I am commenting on the content of the books, much like I would with Madame Bovary or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   (Sorry.  After the election I just don’t have interest in debating anyone at the moment.  Check back with me in a month or two…or with the way the election was maybe even six.  I might feel more up to discussing potentially contentious items.)  If you have questions, let me know, that’s fine 🙂

Then God makes man.  He has man, named Adam, name all the animals while looking for a suitable helpmate/companion.  Surprisingly, Adam doesn’t find a suitable companion…or not so surprisingly.  Either the animals don’t interact well with humans or they fling poo like the monkeys…haha.  So God puts him into a deep sleep, removes his rib and forms woman from it.  Names her Eve.  They of course, are happy as larks running about.  Interesting note, God already starts talking about marriage in Genesis 2:24, after creation of woman “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother an be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”.  The serpent comes along and tempts Eve to eat from the tree that God forbade Adam from eating.  Eve eats it.  Adam eats it.  They realize that they are naked and cover themselves.  God comes and finds them hiding.  Of course, beginning the history of people evading responsibility for their actions and blaming others; Gen 3:12 “The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.”  V. 13  “Then the Lord God said to the woman “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate”.

They get cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Then comes along Cain and Abel, their sons.  Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd.  They brought offerings to God, Cain just “some fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord”.  But Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”.  Now, before you carnivores out there all start stating that this shows God wants us all to EAT MEAT URRGGHHH.  God wasn’t upset that Cain brought him some fruit and vegetables.  He was upset because Cain brought “some fruits of the soil”…doesn’t sound very special does it?  Compared to the fat portions from some firstborn of the flock (pretty high quality stuff there).  So Cain gets mad and jealous.  He kills Abel.  Buries him.   Genesis 4:10 “The Lord said, “What have you done?  Listen!   Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand”.  Abel’s voice crying from the ground where he was buried, sounds like plot twists and themes in many books I’ve read.

Cain is cast out to wander for all his days, he decides to build a city and has a few children of his own.  His family line doesn’t amount to much, and as you will soon see, eventually is drowned out.  Adam and Eve have another son, naming him Seth.

The second “account” begins.  Genesis 5:1  “This is the written account of Adam’s line”.  A genealogy follows, with the refrain of “and then he died” after each person.  Here’s another literary device.  There is an impact here, that makes the one different line stand out “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away”.  Basically, Enoch so pleased God that he was taken away without suffering death as the rest of his ancestors and heirs did.  The line ends with Noah.  Then chapter 6:9 “This is the account of Noah”.

Most people know about the flood, and the ark, and the two of each animal being crowded onto the ark.  Basically God is so displeased with the wickedness of all of mankind, except Noah that he decides to destroy his entire creation.  There is some debate amongst different theological groups as to whether angels had come down and began to mate with women Gen 6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown”.  All of Noah’s family and all the animals get in the ark, and the flood waters take them afloat.  Months later, the waters finally start to recede and Gen 8:1 “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark and he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded”.  God then makes a covenant with Noah, where he blesses Noah and his sons.  He states that they need to get busy to repopulate the earth and from Genesis 9:11  “I establish my covenant with you:  Never again will all ife be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  He then names the rainbow as the sign of that covenant  v16  “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth”.

Then we have Ham observing his father in the throes of drunkeness (Noah’s youngest son).  Noah, upon waking, curses his son and states that his descendants will be slaves to his brothers.  (However, it can’t be used to justify the slavery of different skinned people since those cursed were Canaanites who were Caucasian).

And that’s where I leave you.  Join in next time for some good old incest, brothers attempting to murder other brothers, and potential sacrificial offerings of sons.

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

Having previously read Cat and Mouse by Günter Grass, I thought I was prepared for The Tin Drum. Sure, The Tin Drum is a much longer work and I expected it to be more complex, but I was definitely in for a surprise. The Tin Drum and Cat and Mouse seem so different to me as to potentially represent two different authors. I can certainly see similar themes in both, but Cat and Mouse is just nowhere near as strange, as ambiguous, as modern. I could make something of Cat and Mouse. The Tin Drum…well, let’s just see what I manage to come up with.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 8th for Jim Crace, 6th for Michael Griffith, 10th for Allan Gurganus, 7th for John Irving, and 10th for Thomas Keneally.)

Even before I got to the bizarre journey that Oskar Matzerath makes through pre-WWII, WWII, and post-WWI Germany (a journey that I’m not entirely sure goes anywhere linear), the very first paragraph signaled the opening of a very strange book:

Granted: I’m an inmate in a mental institution; my keeper watches me, scarcely lets me out of sight, for there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can’t see through blue-eyed types like me.

So, we have a novel narrated to us by a mental patient. However, is he crazy, not crazy, or both? Should we trust him? He says fantastic things…but he seems so reasonable, so intelligent. Frankly, I can’t be sure whether to believe him, not believe him, or only partially believe him.

For example, he claims to have been born with full awareness. Supposedly, he heard his father at his birth say that he would grow up to be a grocer and thus decided never to grow up (beyond the age of three where he was to receive a tin drum from his mother). So that people don’t wonder why he doesn’t grow any bigger, he stages an accident:

It took me a minute or two to understand what the trapdoor to our cellar demanded of me. Not suicide, by God! That would have been too simple. But the alternative was difficult, painful, demanded sacrifice; and even then, as always when a sacrifice is demanded of my, my brow broke out in a sweat. Above all, no harm must come to my drum; I would have to carry it safely down the sixteen well-worn steps and place it among the sacks of flour to explain its undamaged state. Then back up to the eighth step, no, down one, actually the fifth would do just as well. But from there safety and credible injury could not be combined. Back up then, too high this time, to the tenth, and finally, from the ninth step, I flung myself down, carrying a shelf laden with bottles of raspberry syrup along with me, and landed head-first on the cement floor of our cellar.

Later, he decides to grow again and does at the exact same time that Kurt, either his son or his half-brother depending on whether you believe Oskar or not, throws a rock at Oskar’s head.

Is Oskar’s lack of growth, and subsequent growth, a result of his decisions as he says? Or, are both products of his respective incidents and only interpreted by him as his choice? Really, I can’t be sure. I kept going back and forth as I read and I still can’t make up my mind.

But, let’s consider the journey Oskar takes for a moment. He goes from drumming under bleachers to disrupt a Nazi rally to entertaining the troops, from youth gang leader to gravestone carver to model to famous musician, eventually to mental patient incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit but took the rap for on a whim. What does this all mean? What possible linear course is found in the summation of all these things?

Man…hell if I know.

What I do know is that The Tin Drum is wild and fantastic:

With no plan in mind, I made myself understood on tin. I forgot all the standard nightclub routines. No jazz for Oskar either. I didn’t like being taken for a maniacal drummer by the crowd anyway. Though I considered myself a decent percussionist, I was no purebred jazz musician. I love jazz, just as I love Viennese waltzes. I could have played either, but I didn’t feel I had to. When Schmuh asked me to step in with my drum, I didn’t play what I could play, but what was in my heart. Oskar pressed his drumsticks into the hands of a three-year-old Oskar. I drummed up and down former paths, showed the world as a three-year-old sees it, and the first thing I did was harness that postwar crowd incapable of a true orgy to a cord, that is, I led them down Posadowskiweg into Auntie Kauer’s kindergarten, had them standing with their mouths hanging open, holding one another by the hand, turning their toes inward, waiting for me, their Pied Piper…. Beneath a night sky studded with fairy-tale stars, slightly cool, but seemingly made to order for the occasion, in the spring of nineteen-fifty, I dismissed the gentlemen and ladies, who carried on for some time with their childish nonsense in Altstadt and did not return home till the police finally helped them recall their age, social position, and telephone numbers.

Oskar has no problem stealing Jesus from a church, but torments himself as responsible for deaths to which he only bore a tangential relationship. He fully commits himself to something, and then just wanders off when it seems to no longer interest him. Between the oddities of the character, the non-traditional flow of the plot, and the complexity even in the sentence structure, I can only say that I am surprised to see this book come out of Germany in the late fifties. I would have expected, whether correctly or incorrectly, something much more stolid and traditional.

In the end, I may not fully know what to make of The Tin Drum. However, I do know that it is an amazing book. I guess that will just have to do.