The Awakening by Kate Chopin

For this week, I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

I had read this book once before, eons ago in a class that was centered on novels from the 20th century. I didn’t remember the plot really, more that I wasn’t overly fond of it.

This time around, I enjoyed it a bit more. I wouldn’t list it automatically in my re-read pile but it has a power to it.

Edna, the main character, is a 28 year old New Orleans “society” wife with two young children. During a summer holiday (one in which the woman and family stays in a place all the time and the husbands travel down on the weekends) she falls in love, though she doesn’t recognize it at first as such. The novel was written in 1899, so one can imagine the consequences of falling in love with a man not your husband are very different than it would be today. The book was shocking at the time and banned and censored. There is nothing terribly shocking in it today, but back then, for a book to portray a woman in a manner in which she becomes aware of herself, her power, and defies societal “norms” because she wants to, well….how…SCANDALOUS!

Sue Monk Kidd listed this in her top ten.

A couple of different things to note:

  1. If you have read this book, you know the ending, but I’m not going to say it for anyone that still remains interested in reading it. But! Towards the beginning there is a lot written by Chopin about the water, and the waves and how Edna feels in the water. And, I’m sure now, in literature classes or book club discussions, this is talked about possibly as foreshadowing, possibly as metaphor. There’s something that bugs me sometimes though about “literary” discussions of books.  Did Chopin -mean- for that to be significant? Or was she just writing about the water, the ocean, because the vacation was at the seaside and the ocean played a part in what Edna did and what she felt at the time? Do authors mean half the things we later take them to mean? Or are they just telling a story? I know there are a lot of authors out there that do mean to put stuff like that in, or write a novel merely to play with a narrative style. But, sometimes, can’t a story just be a story? Does it have to have deeper symbolism purposefully put in there? Most things will have deeper meaning, we’re humans, we’re layered and complex. So, stories by us and about us will by default have these things.
  2. In Persuasion last week, there was a friend of the main character whom was very poor and ill and had her own private rooms. Edna also had a friend (not ill, but very cranky and anti social) with her own private rooms. Both women went to these places to visit their friend and would leave with a deeper understanding about something or someone. Was this a common literary device in the 1800s? I mean, there’s symbolism to this, for sure. But again, is it meant symbolism? Or just a neat literary way to have the characters learn things?

These were my deep literary thoughts for the day.  Sorry that I didn’t write more about the plot, but it’s a rich little book (it’s not long at all) that is easy to read. I actually bought a copy of it at Half Price because it was on the 1.00 rack, and I won’t be getting rid of it but keeping it. Which is the next best thing to being on my re-read list because it means there’s a possibility of a re-read.

Have a great weekend everyone!

(Oh and check out Dietland, a recently published book. It’s pretty amazing.)

Persuasion by Jane Austen

For today, I read Persuasion by Jane Austen. Kate Atkinson, Julian Barnes, Mary Gordon, Elizabeth Hay, Valerie Martin and Ann Patchett all listed this in their top ten lists.

I am here to make a confession to you. I’m not very fond of Jane Austen. I know this is weird to hear someone who is literary who is also a woman admit. It appears sometimes that women who read literature just simply, must adore Jane Austen. I don’t. I find Pride and Prejudice a little tedious, and Mr. Darcy does very little for me. I’m hoping no one decides to take away my “avid reader” card for this admission.

Persuasion proved to me yet again why I’m not overly fond of Austen.

Most of her characters tend to be very unlikeable people. And while I know that’s sort of her point, it still becomes tiresome to have over 80% of the people in a book you’re reading be so obviously disliked by the author of the book. In Persuasion, the main character is Anne Elliot. The unlikeable people in the book are Anne’s father and two sisters. Her father cares nothing for Anne and everything for the fair and delightful Elizabeth. Elizabeth is snooty and conscious of her father’s favor, so therefore dotes on him and thinks very little of Anne (often even saying things right in front of Anne to indicate how little she is regarded). Anne’s sister Mary is a selfish, spoiled, hypochondriac who is passive aggressive and feels the need to be the center of attention at all times. She’s not shy about forcing this on people either. Then there’s Lady Russell (who possibly isn’t meant to be unlikeable but ends up so), the family friend whom Anne is close to since the rest of her family are essentially worthless. Lady Russell was a dear friend of Anne’s deceased mother. She is judgmental about those she feels are beneath the Elliots (who are a minor form of nobility) and manipulates things for Anne’s “best interests” but really are just her interests in keeping Anne close to her and dependent upon her company. Then Austen has her “good hearted and kind but sort of simple minded” folk in the Musgroves, Mary’s husband’s family. Everyone from the Navy in here are shown as being great people, even while being looked down on by Anne’s father and the esteemed Elizabeth. Then, of course, there is the love interest. Captain Wentworth, whom years ago was in love with Anne and she with him (she was 19) but Anne broke off the relationship upon the advice of Mrs. Russell who felt that Captain Wentworth (who was not a Captain then, not really anything at that point) was unsuitable as a match for the Elliots. He went away bitter and sad and became wildly successful in the Navy, and making gads of money. He is portrayed as being good and kind and smart and steadfast. He isn’t a brooder like Mr. Darcy.

Now, I will admit to the plot being a good one. Captain Wentworth and Anne part, 9 years previously. Then, at the time of the story Anne’s father, who with Elizabeth has spent a lot of their money pretending to be even more important than they are must rent out the family home. Which they do. To Captain Wentworth’s sister and her husband (an Admiral). Anne, is of course, all a-flutter as she has never lost her feelings for Wentworth. However, Lady Russell wants her to stay with her while dear dad and sister retire to Bath, but alas, the dear woman can’t keep Anne as her obedient lapdog because she just simply has too many places to be. So, at this point, Mary puts in her whiny plea for attention, simply begging Anne to come and stay with her and her family. Anne does so. Captain Wentworth begins to pay visits to Charles (Mary’s husband) family, including Charles’ two sweet, goodhearted (but a little simple, remember?) sisters. Anne fights off the green monster of jealousy (which being the paragon of goodness that she is, she mostly succeeds). It appears that Wentworth is going for one of the sisters, when they go on an overnight trip to Lyme (the Musgrove girls, Charles, Wentworth, Anne and her sister, Mary) and a terrible accident happens (coincidentally they’ve met up with two other Captains of the Navy who are just simply fine and wonderful men). After this, Anne’s time at Mary’s is up and she must trot back to Mrs. Russell’s side in Bath. There has begun to be hints of Wentworth thawing towards her and his possibly still also having feelings for her (of which she becomes even more a-flutter but being the paragon of goodness she is, successfully hides this from everyone in order to not hinder his match with the Musgrove girl). Her cousin, her father’s heir, in the meantime has shown up in Bath, and has reconciled himself to the family (previously, they felt he didn’t want anything to do with them) and Elizabeth and Daddy are just simply enamored of him now. He sets his sights for Anne, but she never quite trusts him. Then! Hark! Wentworth shows up in Bath. And so it goes from there.

While at some points just a tiny bit predictable (women authors have been emulating Austen for 200 years, really), I did enjoy the story itself. However, I also didn’t like Anne very much. I’m sure Austen meant to portray her as likeable, but she just…was too good to be believable.

So, I found it both a little tedious to read and a little enjoyable to read.

If you are an Austen fan, and have not read Persuasion, I would then highly recommend it to her. I am not putting down anyone that likes Austen. I just happen to not like her a lot. I actually enjoyed this way more than I remembered enjoying Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. (Though, I do remember enjoying Northanger Abbey a lot).

But, because of this blog, you will get to hear me talk about Austen and her unlikeable characters again! Soon enough.

Alligator by Shelley and Paul N. Katz

GATOR!!!!!

There are some books I come across in this list that I’ve wanted to read and expect to like. There are even some that are new to me, but I still expect to like. I did not expect much from Alligator by Shelley and Paul N. Katz.

What the heck though, right? As long as it wasn’t Lake Placid, I figured I’d give in a shot.

 

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 9th for David Foster Wallace. Really? That guy had such odd choices for favorite books considering the kind of writing he did.)

If the Lake Placid reference doesn’t clue you in, Alligator is about a giant gator (well, Lake Placid was about a crocodile I believe, but still). People discover giant alligator. People set out to kill giant alligator that never killed anybody who hadn’t tried to harm it. Bad things happen.

There was something in the water, a shock of ebony, a blackness even darker than the night. The giant shadow resolved itself into a form. Humpbacked like a bull, enormous, almost prehistoric, it had the form of an alligator only it was much bigger than anything Dinks had ever seen. The alligator didn’t move, but lay across the surface of the water like a giant patch of darkness. Dinks could see its blood-red eyes glowing fiery, hypnotized by the magic of the lamp.

*****

Orrin steadied himself against the side of the skiff. He was a good shot, and the target certainly was big enough. He took aim and squeezed off a bullet. He could hear it crack across the water like the Fourth of July. He pulled again.

Before the second shot was even off, a terrible shriek pierced the night. The water began to boil and heave violently. The enormous hulk of the alligator broke the surface: he seemed almost to stand on his tail. Then he crashed back under the surface and submerged, creaking like an old ship.

*****

Dinks looked back out at the water. It too was calm. Perhaps Orrin’s shot had killed the alligator; perhaps it had just scared him. Either way, there wasn’t a sign of him. Dinks smiled. That was a close one, he thought as he took in the burning smoke with pleasure.

*****

Suddenly everything exploded around Dinks. There was a violent shove as the alligator crashed blindly into the tiny skiff, and Dinks could feel himself being wrenched out of the boat and thrown into the air. The earth was gone for him. Water and sky became all mixed up in his mind. There was no pain, only surprise, cutting through his chest like a knife. A flash of light, electric red, seared his brain. Then he fell back into the water, puppetlike, with the strange cracking sound of his own bones in his ears.

A rich man who is used to getting everything he wants set out after the gator. He forced a local guide (scarred by his experiences in Viet Nam) to help him. They hate each other, and the rich man might be the guide’s father. People are out to prove things to each other, and themselves.

The characters are a bit easily marked by their roles, but the major ones have more development than I thought I’d find. I still think they’re all a-holes for not just leaving the gator alone, but there’s more than just ‘man learning the true power of nature and proving manly dominance by taking a stand in the face of it’ inside.

Alligator was nowhere near as horrifyingly bad as I worried it would be. It was actually pretty good. It does have some thrilling aspects, but it took a bit longer getting going on that than I hoped. That was puzzling. Still, there was a lot more going on emotionally than I thought and that was rewarding. It still seemed like pointless human destruction on some level, but at least I could see some of what Alligator was saying. I suppose I should be satisfied with that. After all, it was much better written than I expected.

All in all? Nowhere near what I’d put as an all time best book, but not bad.

Answered Prayers by Truman Capote

I want to say at the start that I generally don’t like reading unfinished books. There just doesn’t seem to be much of a point until things are done; the magic hasn’t been set into place yet. Given that, I probably shouldn’t have decided to look at Answered Prayers by Truman Capote. However, I did. I am a fan of Capote’s work and I wanted to see.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 1st for Douglas Coupland)

This is Capote’s famous unfinished work. He first contracted to write the book in 1966. This kept getting moved and it was still unfinished in 1984 when Capote died. In fact, there are only (as far as anyone knows for sure) the three sections that he’d pretty much written right away and published individually. Nothing more (as far as anyone knows for sure) was every written. Given the Proustian goals Capote supposedly had for the book, I have a hard time considering what we have as any significant portion at all. Whether it completely stalled because of the reaction by the rich against what Capote revealed, other projects, or his own self-destruction, there just isn’t much there.

So what is there? As I said, three sections. We have P.B. Jones, a man supposedly trying to be a writer but by his own admission more a bisexual hustler and hanger on of the rich. He is always mindful of what he can use people for, which isn’t so bad considering the kind of people he uses. He observes and reveals.

For example, Jones meets an important editor and figures out that the editor is attracted to him. He goes to the editor’s office hoping to play that to help his writing career. The editor’s words about the work Jones shows him are polite, but certainly not good. They are also accurate.

Nevertheless, the gentleman had knee-punched me with aching accuracy. He had my number; I was no longer so sure I had his. At the time I was immune to the mechanical vices—seldom smoked, never drank. But now, without permission, I selected a cigarette from a nearby tortoise-shell box; ad I lighted it, all the matches in the matchbook exploded. A tiny bonfire erupted in my hand. I jumped up, wringing my hand and whimpering.

My host merely and coolly pointed at the fallen, still-flaming matches. He said: “Careful. Stamp that out. You’ll damage the carpet.” Then: “Come here. Give me your hand.”

His lips parted. Slowly his mouth absorbed my index finger, the one most scorched. He plunged the finger into the depths of his mouth, almost withdrew, plunged again—like a huntsman drawing dangerous liquid from a snakebite. Stopping, he asked: “There. Is that better?”

The seesaw had upended; a transference of power had occurred, or so I was foolish enough to believe.

“Much; thank you.”

“Very well,” he said, rising to bolt the office door. “Now we shall continue the treatment.”

Good? Yes. One of the best books of all time? I don’t see how given the tiny fragments we have of what was intended. This is actually first on Douglas Coupland’s list. I understand that even less. There just isn’t enough of Answered Prayers to evaluate.

There is still some great writing in Answered Prayers, but it is so definitely unfinished. I can see this as interesting for studying Capote, or what happened in Capote trying to write the book, or any of that…but not much more. I don’t care so much about what he reveals about the rich, and I think that’s part of the interest for some. The phenomenon of the Answered Prayers is simply more interesting than the book itself. As for the book, we never got enough of it for it to be really that interesting to me. It’s important if you want to be complete on Capote, but Answered Prayers will never be on any of my favorite lists.