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Archive for the ‘classic American literature’ Category

I Know This Much Is All, If You’re a Poet You Do Something Beautiful

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Here it comes, the J.D. Salinger post.

I was in the tenth grade when each student in my Honours English class was handed an identical copy of The Catcher in The Rye. It was white, with a little rainbow type thing in the corner and the title and author in bold black typeface.

My copy had been scrawled all over and I asked my teacher if I could swap for one without the notes in the margins. When I put my hand up and asked my teacher if I could have a new copy, he asked me if I was sure, he considered the margin notes of others to be “like gold” and thought it was unusual that I would reject a copy that had the answers and allegories and symbols all highlighted and spelled out for me in some other teenager’s painstakingly neat handwriting. My answer to him, as I handed the copy back, was that I didn’t want to be influenced by what anyone else thought before I formed my own opinions. He acquiesced and for the remainder of the semester, would flip through the copies of various other materials before he handed them to me, to ensure that my copy was scrawl free. I appreciated this in him, even if he graded me harshly which upon reflection I think may have been an attempt to encourage my grudging scholastic excellence.

To this day I am more successful if spite is a motivation factor for me.

But this post here is not about The Catcher in The Rye, I think I might be able to feel the collective relief that I am NOT writing about that particular novel, although I cannot guarantee that at some point there may not be a picture of me posted somewhere in this blog wearing roller skates and pretending to be Phoebe Caulfield. Instead I wanted to write about Franny and Zooey.

So Franny and Zooey was originally published as a short story and a novella, it’s two parts separate until 1961 when someone came up with the brilliant idea of sticking them together and making them a novel in two parts. It follows a long weekend in the lives of the two youngest Glass children. I loved this story from the first time I read it, sometimes there are just characters that get under your skin, and you immediately see the beauty in them, and I was in love with the Glass family.

The first part is Franny, it starts with Franny’s beau Lane waiting for her on the train platform, he is reading a letter that she mailed to him again, although he has read this letter many times,  he acts as though he barely remembers it. He clearly feels very strongly about Franny, he has romantic notions about her raccoon shearling coat, thinks about kissing the collar of it, and how only he would recognize that coat on that particular train platform. However instead of telling any of this to Franny, who no doubt would love to hear such things, because at the end of the day we all want to be that special to someone, he starts prattling on about football games and frog’s legs.

Franny seems off, she tells Lane about a book that she’s been reading, called The Way of The Pilgrim, which is a Russian story about a pilgrim that gives up everything to wander the earth to learn to pray without ceasing, Franny is very much influenced by this book and has herself started to live more ascetically, leaving her college program and trying to be less pretentious and by all appearances seems to have stopped eating in her own attempt to pray without ceasing. After she collapses her part closes with her lips moving without sound, seemingly repeating the prayer found in The Way of The Pilgrim. (Incidentally I have a copy of this very book, and I intend to write about at some point.)

The second part of the story starts with Franny’s older brother Zooey, smoking in the tub and reading a letter from their older brother Buddy. He is interrupted by their mother Bessie, who comes in to tell him that Franny has collapsed in the restaurant with her boyfriend and is home, lying on the couch, refusing to eat and crying, all while holding on to the family cat and refusing to go back to school.

Zooey eventually tells his mother about the book, which she happened to find her brother’s bedroom and how both their older brothers Buddy and Seymour (who kills himself in another Salinger story, A Nice Day For Bananafish) and Zooey himself went through a phase of religious preoccupation. Zooey and Franny eventually speak and he encourages her to find the spiritual in everyday things, instead of trying to live like the Pilgrim, he uses their mother’s chicken soup as an example.

Franny has another breakdown as she and Zooey talk, and he calls her from another room in the house, pretending to be their brother Buddy, Franny eventually figures out that it is really Zooey and the two reconcile and he tells her something that allows her to rest, resolved in her spiritual crisis.

While on the surface, Franny and Zooey seems to be a book about dissatisfaction and a search for religious purity, under the surface it is to me, a much subtler book about the nature of love. Salinger himself cryptically called the second part “Zooey” a love story. The real root of the story is that everybody, regardless of class or education, or how petty and pretentious they are, deserve love. Franny and Zooey is a story about family love, and how that can be deeper and more true than any other sort of love there might be, while family may be the source of many problems, they are often, also the solution.

Written by Lindsey

July 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Even Amidst Fierce Flames The Golden Lotus Can Be Planted

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I have a copy of Sylvia Plath’s first and only novel The Bell Jar that I have been carrying around with me throughout my various moves since grade eleven. The copy of which I speak is a printing that was issued in the 1970’s and has a very simple, green concentric circle design and black and white block lettering. I should also mention that I totally pilfered this copy from my grade eleven English class book stacks.

At the time I didn’t think my of actions as stealing so much as liberating this book from its endlessly dreary shelf-life, sitting on the stacks passed over for brighter, newer paperback books. I devoured the Bell Jar, over and over again. There was quite literally a period of my life that I would read it from start to finish and then start all over again. I read it in this fashion to my count eight times, it was likely more, before I moved onto something else. Undoubtedly however, The Bell Jar is one of the novels that defined the utter cliché of my teenaged ennui and shaped my earliest attempts to be “a writer.” As we know now however, I am not “a writer”, and it’s all Marcel Proust’s fault.

I read The Bell Jar frequently even today, often in the bath, coining my phrase “I’m reading Plath in the bath”, which is ironic with the whole suicide thing. Not to worry though, Sylvia didn’t do herself in by opening her veins in a warm bath, she did it by sticking her head in the oven a month after the first publication of her only novel. The stigma attached to The Bell Jar Aside, it’s actually a funny, personal and rather uplifting tale. At least to me.

Semi-autobiographical, The Bell Jar follows the protagonist Esther Greenwood as she works through her internship at a woman’s magazine, return to her mother’s house, attempted suicide, hospitalization and eventual recovery with some flashbacks recalling her lame boyfriend Buddy and his weird underwear. I expect eventually, since my blog here has become a virtual graveyard for the writers themselves I will write more in another entry about Plath herself, her suicide and the destruction of her last journal after her death by Ted Hughes, but that requires a trip to the library and some pant-free research.

Written by Lindsey

June 9, 2010 at 9:21 am

His Hour Upon The Stage

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I like to know things about people who write the books I read. I like to know things about people in general, but I particularly like to know things about writers. I like to picture the writer at his desk, hunched over and hunting and pecking at a typewriter, clicking out lovely things. So, I google. I used to go old school and visit the library, then I discovered this thing called the internet, now I research from bed, often without pants on.

Even though I can’t say that I especially enjoyed The Sound and The Fury, I found my curiosity piqued about the man who wrote it.

For the sake of not blogging about things that are boring and can easily found elsewhere, I thought it best to focus on the parts of William Faulkner’s life that most interested me. Mainly, his love life.  I often wonder if what authors write about is largely shaped by what happens in their own lives. I like to entertain thoughts of loves lost and roads not taken being explored in their craft and played out on the printed page. Writing stories with endings that are happy or tragic, depending on how the writer reflects on those very individuals or defining moments.

William Faulkner lived, for all intents and purposes as the leading man in his own soap opera. In love with a woman who had married someone else first, Faulkner waited ten years for his chance with his teenaged sweetheart. They were married when her first marriage fell apart. A true romantic, that didn’t stop him from conducting several extra-marital affairs, many which lasted several years.

There are some imaginative types that will tell you that to be able to create something, to write, or to paint,or to act, that you have to be able to fall in love with anything that crosses your path, be it for ten minutes or for ten years. Faulkner strikes me as the sort that worked like that, photos of him even now carry a certain weight, the portrait of the artist as an amorous poet. Despite his extra curricular activities outside the marriage bed and a heavy dependancy on alcohol, his relationship with his wife endured until the time of his death.

Faulkner, in addition to his dalliances had a generous tendency towards alcoholism. He claimed to not be able to face the blank page without a bottle of Jack Daniels. He felt, and stated several times that the drink helped him fuel his process. Others, upon speculation would suggest that it was a method of escape from the doldrums of daily life. Faulkner faced several financial woes up until his commercial success and subsequent Noble Peace Prize, and may have found some deliverance at the bottom of a bottle.

There is a picture of William Faulkner where he is seen lounging in the sun, smoking a pipe. Both elbows are casually propped on the arms of his beach chair, his typewriter before him. Here he looks very much a man not at all aware of the way his works would shape others, here he looks like a man that wrote for himself, for the joy of seeing the words spread out on the page before him.

Written by Lindsey

March 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

A Poor Player, That Struts and Frets

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The Sound and The Fury.

A few perspectives, brought to you by the awesome power of the internet.

Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury

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Reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, is like driving with my octogenarian grandmother. Dreadfully slow, confounding, and you’re never quite sure if you are going to make it out alive. What makes it worth it though is, occasionally the sweet lady looks over and says something that is so inspiring, or so beautiful that you buckle your seat belt, and hold white knuckled to the door handle.

A stream of consciousness tale told in four parts, and published originally in 1929, it appears on several lists as one of the best books of all time. The story also managed to play a role in Faulkner’s Noble Peace Prize in literature, which he was awarded in 1949.

The Sound and The Fury is a difficult story to provide an effective synopsis to, because for the most part, its not easily readable, nor, at times, does it make much sense. For the sake of brevity, I am going to break it down into it’s four parts, and attempt to give some sense of what the hell was going on in there. If The Sound and The Fury is your most favouritist book ever, and you find my synopsis overly simplified or missing the point altogether, bear with me and comfort yourself with the knowledge that MY most favouritist book is Go Dog Go.

Part One.

Narrated by Benjy Compson. His narration shifts over a twenty year span.

Caddy smelled like trees until she knocked boots with some guy from town and now she doesn’t smell like trees anymore.

Caddy, by the by, is the main figure in the story or more correctly, the idea of Caddy is the main figure in the story.  She is never met on her own, and is a different person in the eyes of each of the narrators.  She is only shown through the biases of each of her brothers, and ultimately does not exisit as a person, only as an individual’s perception of a person.

Part Two.

Narrated By Quentin Compson.

My sister Caddy is a whore, and I am going to toss myself into the river, from a height, weighted down by irons because of it.

Part Three.

Narrated by Jason Compson.

Money.Money.Money.Money.Money.I Hate Caddy, and myself, but mostly Caddy.Money.Money.Money.

Part Four.

The only chapter that makes any sense as Faulkner uses a more traditional writing style. The focus is the matriarch of the Compson’s servants, Dilsey . Dilsey and her family are used to provide a narrative comparison against the declining Compson family. I didn’t really figure out the story until the last few paragraphs, which is maybe what was intended all along. It illustrates the decay of the wealthy Southern family, and the idiocy that each of the brothers display in turn – Benjy’s mental retardation, Quentin’s declining mental health and obsession with his sister’s sexuality, and Jason’s obsession with wealth (Jason is also really mean).

/synopsis

Faulkner had originally intended to have the story printed with different coloured inks to represent the shifts in time and perspective, but used italics instead. Then he broke his own rules, and stopped using punctuation.

While the story, from what I could glean in the nearly six (six!) weeks it took me to read The Sound and The Fury, is a tragic tale of the downfall of a prominent Southern American family after the Civil War. The type of story, that being full of sadness and melancholy self reflection is right up my alley, but it’s delivery made it nearly incomprehensable. Also, Faulkner was mostly drunk while he wrote it, I tried being mostly drunk while I read it. It didn’t help.

All of that being said. I TOTALLY understand why people will tell you this is their favourite book, or will sing it’s praises as one of the most important pieces of American Literature Ever! Getting through this book is like winning the blue ribbon at a hotdog eating contest. You finish, you feel like you have really accomplished something, but you feel bloated with vague twinges of shame – mostly because you don’t really understand why you ate all those hotdogs in the first place.