Posts Tagged ‘literature’

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On the Road

November 25, 2007

Kerouac’s On the Road is a fictionalized account of the writer’s exploits traveling across the country with Dean Moriarty. In this work the narrator uses the pseudonym Sal Paradise with Dean Moriarty being a pseudonym for Neal Cassady. The plot of the novel revolves around the narrator falling into Dean Moriarty’s mad and free orbit and how their paths intersect and part as they explore life on the road, meeting up with a cast of like minded characters, migrant workers, con men, and drifters. The novel is a psychological charting of the main character’s attitudes to the world around him and is framed through cross-country journeys traversing the continent.

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The Discontented Dervishes

November 2, 2007

The Discontented Dervishes is a collection of stories by the 13th century Sufi poet Sa’di as retold by author Arthur Scholey. Most of the work in this collection falls under the categories of parable or fable. The collection’s name comes from a story in which a generous king goes out disguised as an Arab and overhears two discontented dervishes complaining about the injustice of those that have wealth in this world. One dervish says, “I do believe that if our King Salih were to walk through that door I should dash his brains out with my shoe!” (4). The king proceeds back to his palace then sends a servant to escort the two dervishes to the palace where they are treated lavishly. Later the king reprimands the dervishes with “I hope you both see now that I am not the sort of king who, in his grandeur, turns away his face from the helpless – that I am not, in fact, the monarch that you abused in the mosque this morning” (6). Sa’di is famous for his line about feeling bad about not having shoes until he met a man who had no feet. The imagery in these stories is interesting, but I suspect something may be missing in this translation and in Scholey’s retelling. A lot of the stories come across as too preachy or flat. I was excited to explore this writing as I’m not overly familiar with Persian work, but I wasn’t altogether pleased with what I found here.

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Harrison’s The Kiss

October 29, 2007

Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss is a confessional memoir of a woman’s incestuous affair with her father. The structure of the story explores the dysfunctional triangulation between the woman, her mother, and her father, complicated by her grandparents. In her early life the father is an absence, while the daughter competes for the mother’s affection in life. The father’s relationship to the mother has never been resolved, so when the daughter and father meet again when she’s in college, his desires for the mother are transferred onto her. Now he’s become a man of God, a preacher, with a new family of his own. The Kiss is the woman’s journey into a sexual affair her father initiated with bouts with mental health and anorexia along the way. The memoir is the account of a woman coming to terms with the evil betrayals of her past. Everything changes after that kiss.

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Tolstoy’s Fables and Fairy Tales

October 23, 2007

I have been interested lately in fables and fairy tales for their simplicity of image and layered beauty. In contrast to Tolstoy’s grander work like War and Peace or Anna Karenina, I am intrigued by the economy and directness of his fables. Most of the writing in Fables and Fairy Tales was originally written as part of primers he created for the school he set up on his estate for neighboring peasants. The fables teach life lessons in a simple format, and although frequently didactic or dogmatic, the clear elegance of the stories shines through. Among other things these stories are peopled with talking animals, kings, hermits, and peasants. With these fables Tolstoy sought to enlighten those around him with his humanitarian dreams and goals of social justice.

Some of the fables are deceptively straightforward showing things aren’t always as they appear. Holes are frequently poked in cleverness. They teach one must do the work if one wants to earn the outcome; one can’t simply jump to the end. In Three Rolls and a Pretzel, the faults are contagiously shown in a peasant’s false clever logic.

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Timpanelli’s Sometimes the Soul

October 22, 2007

Often contemporary novels that retell fables or fairy tales don’t work. They are wedding cake frosting with sugar-clotted interiors. They don’t connect to the heart or wit of the stories; are just an attempt at the form. True fables have hardship and labor that unearths hidden lessons. The words are clean and crisp and light, something that collapses under most replicas. Gioia Timpanelli’s Sometimes the Soul is a collection of two novellas that rework the author’s Sicilian fables featuring two women seeking heartfelt independence and exploring their places in the world. In A Knot of Tears a baroness locks herself away in a manor seeking seclusion, but is interrupted by a parrot flying through her window one night. The parrot is followed by his owner, a sailor, who tells the woman and her housekeeper three stories, while thwarting the advances of two would-be suitors. The second story is a fresh retelling of the traditional Beauty and the Beast story called Rusina, Not Quite in Love. Both connect because of the generosity and depth of the writing.

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Ovid’s Imaginary Life

October 21, 2007

An Imaginary Life is a fabulist story of Ovid after he’s exiled to live with the barbarians. The novel starts with Ovid unable to communicate his experiences as poet with those he now lives among. He is alienated and adrift without shared language. He lacks the skill that brought his life meaning and purpose. Language was the bridge that connected him to the world around him. Through his encounters with the small wild boy he learns to integrate his life with that of nature and the world around him. Through these interactions, along with his childhood memories of the same boy, he learns to become vital and alive again.

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Three Apple Fell From Heaven

October 21, 2007

Three Apples Fell From Heaven is the chronicling of a small village in Ottoman Turkey during the Armenian Genocide. The novel is structured around a number of characters whose lives are destroyed by the events unfurling around them. Each story is in first person. Some accounts are by the Turks who approach the events with indifference or hostility, while others are the women and small children bearing witness to the killing and violence that is becoming a way of life, as first men are taken away and slaughtered, then eventually women and children. The stories are told by a cast of townspeople with the perspectives of daughters who are left behind, women who survive the disappearances with their status as prostitutes or servants for the more powerful Turkish families, dead bodies of men and children killed who are left to die (but come metaphorically back to tell their stories to the living inhabitants of the village), Turkish families who live with the Armenians in their midst, and an adolescent boy who is dressed up in woman’s clothing by his mother to keep him hidden.
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Outline of My Lover

October 9, 2007

Outline of My Lover is a novel by Douglas A. Martin about a young man who goes off to college and falls in love with the idealized notion of a rock star. He sets out to meet this person in real life, finds him, and they date. When the relationship falters due to outside pressure and the rock star’s emotional unavailability, the main character is left reeling, unsure of his place and purpose. This novel is the narrator’s attempt to make sense out of the affair and his life. It’s a blind item and open letter rolled into a wet crepe valentine to an ex lover. Sometimes I found myself thinking the main character was too whiny and needed to move on, and my empathy seemed to lie more with the lover and not the narrator. That being said, the writing is beautiful and has an extreme forward momentum and earnestness.

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Sexing the Cherry

October 9, 2007

I never read the backs of books or introductions. They distract and usually take away from the reading experience. I like my journey into a book to be fresh and unbiased as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll read an introduction afterwards if it offers some sort of historical context or was written by somebody I admire. Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry is a richly depth-filled world that I utterly adored falling into. Her writing in the novel is unusually complicated, but deceptively simple. She is vast and layered. The writing doesn’t need cheating with a back cover blurb, but for some reason I found myself reading it this time. Maybe I was looking for a clue as to what the novel was supposed to be about. I know what I was getting out of it, but maybe curiosity hedged in, and needed hints as to where this bizarre story would lead. There I stumbled across the blurb from the San Francisco Chronicle intoning the book with, “ the philosophical form of Milan Kundera and told with the grace of Italo Calvino.” That solidified something for me. I don’t know if that would have occurred to me, but once read it became certain. It clarified something for me. Sexing the Cherry is Kundera, it’s Immortality with its interchangeable lives over time. Sexing the Cherry is Calvino, it’s Invisible Cities with the spinning white city where Winterson’s escaping ballerinas inhabit. I admire both Kundera and Calvino, and the Chronicle definitely tipped me towards a new understanding, but there is also something uniquely Winterson at play here.

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Jackie Under My Skin

October 8, 2007

I have never really been drawn to Jackie Kennedy. She’s a parade who ended and all I can see is the leftover confetti and litter fading in the sun. That’s probably not what the reader wants to hear, but I was never able to access her as anything other than a cliché of gay camp. My “in” is after the fact, more from Warhol than Life magazine. She is a link to JFK, but even he is remote as we never shared overlapped time on this planet. My only memory of him is other people’s memories of where they were the day he was assassinated. Rather I don’t even have those. Nobody has ever actually told me where they were when the president died. I just know that it is something they are supposed to remember. Jackie was there, and she transformed. She survived. She was a style icon, with looks like a sedated cat who ate a canary.

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