Macbeth by Shakespeare And Five stitches in my thumb

Hello!

This week I read Macbeth.  I would have had a lot to say about it (and if I could have recorded this as a vocal blog entry, I might have).  However, Tuesday evening around 10:15 (when one’s husband works until 11 p.m., 10:15 can seem like evening), I was preparing dinner.  I was attempting to cut chicken, rubbery raw chicken, which I hate to do.  The knife slipped.  I ended up having to call a friend and get Greg to come home early.  We got everything bandaged up, then Wednesday morning, went to an urgent care place.  It was much cheaper than an emergency room visit at midnight would have been.  Greg and my friend were both shocked to find out it required 5 stitches.  First time in my life to get stitches caused by a use of a kitchen knife.

Because it was my thumb, it has left me with some power to type.  However, since it was my hand, typing is not pleasant. 

Macbeth was listed as a favorite by 4 authors.  Philip Caputo.  Robb Forman Dew.  Ben Marcus.  Stewart O’Nan.

Reading Macbeth was amazing.  I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare but have never read Macbeth.  Loved it.  It’d be a good play for someone who’s never read Shakespeare to begin with, as it is one of the shorter ones.  It takes a few pages to get used to the cadence of Shakespeare and his sentence structure, but it ends up (for me at least) flowing beautifully.

Shakespeare really can make you think.  The plays are over 500 years old, yet much of what they describe still are issues today.  In Macbeth, you have politics, you have betrayal, you have one person (Lady M) egging another on to do something that they want to do but would have probably never acted upon that desire.  You have revenge.  You have wordplay.  The three witches promise things and Macbeth thinks he is safe, yet he changes the laws of nature himself, so why shouldn’t nature change it’s laws on him?  (read it to discover what I talk about).

It seems a straightforward little play, until you begin to think on it, and think of all the subterfuge, the hidden meanings, what Shakespeare used language and how he used language to convey.

I’m going to go take ibuprofen now.  I’ll be back next week, with 24 hours left of stitches in my thumb. 

Have a great week!

Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson

Hey, everybody, Kim is a bit under the weather this week so we decided to have me go two weeks in a row. Don’t worry, though, she’ll be back taking the next two weeks so you’ll see her reviews again soon. Today? Fiskadoro!

 

I had an interesting experience taking a look at Fiskadoro. To be honest, I hadn’t even looked at what the book was supposed to be about before reading. My copy didn’t even have a summary on the back. I guess you were just already supposed to have heard, though I hadn’t.

Regardless, being familiar with Jesus’ Son, Tree of Smoke, Train Dreams, and Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, I saw that there was a Denis Johnson book listed in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books and jumped at it. You can imagine my surprise when I found a post-nuclear holocaust novel set in Key West.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 3rd for T.C. Boyle.)

To be honest, not having heard anything about Fiskadoro before getting started, not even having read a summary, I wasn’t sure I was dealing with a post-nuclear holocaust when I started reading. At first it could have just been a poverty-stricken area of Key West. To be honest, I don’t know much about Key West.

Eventually I became sure:

But this afternoon the Declaration only seemed to rouse his feeling, and now he wasn’t telling them the Declaration anymore–he was complaining about names again. “You know Mrs. Castanette in our orchestra? She only calls herself that because she plays the castanets. It is a fact that her name is Margaret Swanson. But her husband now calls himself Swanson-Johnson. They don’t see how they themselves are the ones who–who mangle the way of things.” He moved his hands as if gnarling up a bunch of string. “In the time when it was cold, we, my family, we burned out copy of the Constitution to get the fire going one day. Everybody was in despair, the children were coming out crooked, every tide left dead poison fish, nobody put out the boats, nobody could get together and say, Let’s keep the fires going in our stoves–I remember this, my father told me and I remember a little bit.

Really, it’s a strange little world down there in Key West. The title character is the son of a fisherman. He has a clarinet that has been handed down from somewhere and seeks lessons from Mr. Cheung, the speaker in the section quoted above. Cheung runs some kind of rag-tag orchestra, though they have never played. He remembers things from before, but clearly not enough. Cheung’s grandmother, who should remember all of what humanity had been through as she goes as far back to having escaped the fall of Saigon as a young woman, appears to have dementia and is barely aware anymore of where she is. In all of this, Fiskadoro wanders off and is captured by some nearby swamp people.

Of course, the outside world is not entirely gone. Radio broadcasts still come from nearby Cuba, and though Key West is quarantined, someday soon that quarantine will be lifted and Cuba will be coming. The world is rebuilding.

At one point in the novel, Fiskadoro loses much of his memory as part of a ceremony he undergoes with the swamp people. On his way back home, he sees from a distance some of the remnants of the nuclear disaster–great streams of traffic where people were burned alive in their cars. He tells his teacher, Cheung, about what he saw and Cheung tells him that he will be a great leader one day. He tells Fiskadoro:

You’ve been to their world and now you’re in this world, but you don’t have the memories to make you crazy. It isn’t sleeping under the moon that makes a crazy person. It’s waking up and remembering the past and thinking it’s real.

It’s kind of an odd statement. Usually people seem to advocate the whole “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it” thing, but Cheung seems to be think halfway is better. No knowledge means no vision about going forward, but too much means getting stuck trying to live the past. As such, Cheung seems to think Fiskadoro is in a unique position.

Regardless, Fiskadoro is an interesting but strange little book. It definitely wasn’t what I expected from Denis Johnson. I doubt I got all that there was there on just a first reading, but what I did get definitely increased my respect for the variety of which Johnson is apparently capable. You’ll just have to take a look and see if it is as surprising for you, coming from Johnson as it does, as it was for me.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

To be completely honest, I never felt a big urge to read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. I’m not sure what I thought about the book, but it just never piqued my interest. I knew it was considered important to the so-called sexual revolution, but I am generally not drawn to what I perceive to be social fiction.

We’ll deliberately ignore the fact that Fear of Flying is considered a ‘woman’s book.’ I’m the perception of the book as that influenced my interest in picking it up, but that kind of classification is ridiculous anyway. Similar to what the ‘How to Determine If It’s a Boy’s Toy or A Girl’s Toy’ or whatever it is titled points out, you don’t use your genitals to read books.

Regardless, when thinking about books to read for this blog, I thought about how I’d never felt the need to read Fear of Flying. I thought this might be the time. Besides, I thought I might have a different perspective on this book since I am a man and so many men seem to avoid it (though I did see an interview once where the author commented how men were glad to see their date reading Fear of Flying as it usually indicated a high likelihood of getting laid).

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 5th for, of all people, David Foster Wallace.)

For me, Fear of Flying seemed solidly written, though not particularly groundbreaking. The main character, Isadora Wing, is an intelligent and accomplished writer, but she is overwhelmed by fears and insecurities. She is in an unstable marriage to an analyst on the way to an analyst’s convention. This is certainly the party is sounds like, full of all kinds of people who are audaciously certain they have the final answers on questions they haven’t even fully began to ask:

Most of them were carrying expensive cameras, and despite their longish hair, tentative beards, wire-rimmed glasses (and wives dressed with an acceptably middle-class whiff of bohemia: cowhide sandals, Mexican shawls, Village silversmith jewelry), they exuded respectability. The sullen essence of squareness. That was, when I thought about it, what I had against most analysts. They were such unquestioning acceptors of the social order. Their mildly leftist political views, their signing of peace petitions and decorating their offices with prints of Guernica were just camouflage. When it came to the crucial issues: the family, the position of women, the flow of cash from patient to doctor, they were reactionaries. As rigidly self-serving as the Social Darwinists of the Victorian Era.

Having landed in her marriage the same way that she landed in all of her relationships (as a cure to the ills of the previous one), Isadora is unhappy with her analyst husband. She is swept off her feet by another analyst who is nothing like her husband, and ends up taking off on a whirlwind European tour with him. Of course, though he preaches how she must become independent, and all the ways she MUST become independent, he is really just another version of the same:

When I threw in my lot with Adrian Goodlove, I entered a world in which the rules we lived by were his rules–although, of course, he pretended there were no rules. It was forbidden, for example, to inquire what we would to tomorrow. Existentialists were not supposed to mention the word “tomorrow.” It was to be banished from our vocabulary. We were forbidden to talk about the future or to act as if the future existed. The future did not exist. Only our driving existed and our campsites and hotels. Only our conversations existed and the view beyond the windshield (which Adrian called the “windscreen”). Behind us was the past–which we invoked more and more to pass the time and to amuse each other (in the way that parents make up games of geography or identify-the-song-title for their bored children during long car rides). We told long stories about our pasts, embellishing, embroidering, and dramatizing in the manner of novelists. Of course, we pretended to be telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but nobody (as Henry Miller says) can tell the absolute truth; and even our most seemingly autobiographical revelations were partly fabrications–literature, in short. We bought the future by talking about the past. At times I felt like Scheherazade, amusing my kind with subplots to keep the main plot from abruptly ending. Each of us could (theoretically) throw in the towel at any point, but I feared that Adrian was more likely to do it than me, and that it was my problem to keep him amused. When the chips are down and I’m alone with a man for days on end, then I realize more than ever how unliberated I am.

The bottom line? None of these men are going to fix Isadora. Isadora is going to continue to be unhappy no matter who she is with if she isn’t an independent person on her own first. I probably make it sound trite, but Jong does a much better job with it.

My reaction to the book? Well, I’m astounded that anyone could consider it pornographic. That just seems ludicrous. As for social agenda, I’m sure there is one there…but I don’t think it gets in the way of much. It’s a good solid work of fiction about a character’s need and attempt to become an independent person. This one just happens to be about a woman.

As far as I could tell, that was the big groundbreaking revelation: that women were human beings and operated as such. They are surrounded by forces that attempt to explain and control them, but all without any understanding of them as individuals and without any real authority, just like most people to some degree or another. Perhaps I just come at this book from a different time period, or perhaps I delude myself into thinking that I am more enlightened than I am, but it just didn’t seem that revolutionary a work.

But, all of that is more of a response to the psychological impressions of the book floating around out there rather than a response to Fear of Flying itself. Fear of Flying never claims (other than what someone may have written on the jacket) to be more than a serious work of literature examining the journey of a human character. And, it is that. It is well written and engaging to read. Frankly, I think that is the most important criteria for anyone to judge the book by. Anything else is something other than the book.

Flannery O’Connor-The Complete Stories

So, two weeks ago, I said to Dave…”I’m thinking of reading Flannery O’Connor”.  He told me to get The Complete Stories, as that had all of the stories from her other books, plus some new (to publication in book format) stories as well.  His telling me this turned out to be serendipity.  I decided to buy it off Amazon, as that would be the easiest way to get it in time to read it etc.  While on Amazon, I decided to also buy Wind Through the Keyhole, by Stephen King.  Because of that, I discovered that both Joe Hill (King’s son, an amazing author in and of himself) and King both had books coming out in the next few months.  I, of course, preordered them.  I debated Owen King (King’s _other_ son)’s first published novel, but in the end decided to try him out via the library first.  Anyway, I was geek excited about those and had to share. 

I shared this story not only because of that, however.  I am now also geek about Flannery O’Connor.  I’m unsure how I could have ever missed reading her.  However, reading it, I know I have only ever read one story of hers.  And I have discovered I adore her.

I am most definitely not alone in this love (not counting Dave, my friend Chris and a few others who almost stood up and cheered when I told them I was reading her for the blog), Fourteen of the authors for Top Ten picked her short stories as favorites.  James Lee Burke, Jim Crace, Michael Cunningham, Clyde Edgerton, Carl Hiaasen, Barry Hannah, Kent Haruf, Walter Kirn, Wally Lamb, Ben Marcus, Dennis McFarland, Erin McGraw, Jim Shepard, and Lee Smith all picked her in their top ten books.

I recently read Stories:  All New Tales, edited by Neil Gaiman.  In it, Gaiman, in the introduction stated that while picking the stories for it, they looked for the stories that made you most likely to say “And what happened next?”.  O’Connor succeeds brilliantly at this.

Her stories make me sad.  She does a brilliant job of highlighting the human condition in day to day life.  She holds a mirror up and shows us our pettiness, our selfishness, our need for recognition and love.  But she also shows us redemption too. 

The only way I can really do this is to go through the stories that most touched me and briefly talk about them and why I’m highlighting them as favorites within all of them.

The Barber cracked me up in some ways, and in other ways made me sad.  In it, a man who is a Democrat is hassled at the barber’s about why he’d vote for the Democrat candidate, is he a “nigger-lover”.  He gets more and more infuriated and finally loses it.  Then is shown that they were just teasing him, like they didn’t mean to make it go that far.  The reason it made me sad though is that the way he felt, and what they were saying?  It could have been the 2012 elections and Facebook.  You could just substitute the “nigger” with something else, and it could have been our current election.  Well, you’d have to also sub the barber with facebook, haircuts with status updates and et cetera, et cetera.

I really liked “The Crop”.  In it, the main character is a female author, who is hassled by her household.  She ends up falling into a story.  I loved it for a couple of different reasons.  I always love stories about stories (metafiction).  I also always am fascinated by writer process stories.  This satisfied both my needs.  It also was oddly congruent with the Stories book I was reading as well.  Many of those stories had metafiction in them as well.  O’Connor’s wasn’t quite as supernatural as theirs, but they went together.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find”.  This story literally sent shivers down my spine.  It wasn’t necessarily the events or suspense of the story (though that definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat) but rather the tautness of it.  This has to be, hands-down, one of the finest examples of short stories I have ever in my life read.

“The River” ‘s main character, a little boy, said something that I loved.

“You found out more when you left where you lived”. 

Just wanted to share that.

“Good Country People”:  After “A Good Man is Hard to Find” this is the tale that I’ve heard most people refer to.  And it’s easy to see why.  O’Connor has her disgruntled female character, the downtrodden mother, the opinionated help (these characters feature in some format in a lot of her stories).  But what she then does to them, well…it literally keeps your eyes glued to the page.  I don’t know if I would have been able to put down the book during this story.  Hulga and what happens to her is that compelling.

There are so many other things I could say about others of her stories.

I did make the point to Dave earlier, that I wondered if she had “mother” issues.  Not like Psycho or other shows/stories like Psycho, but just somehow.  Most of her mothers in her stories were slightly pathetic, highly pitiful creatures.  It made me wonder if she saw her own mother that way, or if she saw other mothers that way.  Many times, these mothers see their children one way, when in reality, they are a different way.  They do the same thing with strangers, as seen in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People. 

O’Connor shows us why things aren’t always as they seem, both in events and in our perceptions of people. 

Read these.