Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

McCullers, Twain, Pratchett, Wodehouse, and not quite Toole and Pamuk

Just a quick jotting.

I re-read two of my favorites by Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding, a story about a young girl in the deep south at the awkward age between childhood and teenagedom, who's dissatisfied with everything in life except the thought of running away with her older brother when he comes back from the war and gets married, and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (and other stories). Can someone explain to me what it is i don't like about Wunderkind ? It meets all the criteria for a great McCullers story, but something about it gives me hackles. Perhaps i just don't like the main character. Anyhow, all the other stories in the Cafe are just superb. If you haven't read it you probably should immediately. It's very short, like a Salinger book. I also tried to re-read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but found that the characters were still too fresh in my head, so i had to put it down. Which says something about the power of those characters, since i haven't read it for something like ten years.

I picked up Number Fourty Four, the Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain. It was published posthumously but i believe relatively as-intended, and have to admit i was a bit disappointed. It feels like a series of vignettes somewhat crudely stitched together. It runs from absurdist physical comedy to Moralizing In All Capitals without much consistency. Sadly it reminded me a bit of The Further Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which has to be a commercial piece.

Vivianna knows i love A Confederacy of Dunces (you either love it or hate it and i love it) and so loaned me a copy of The Neon Bible, also written by John Toole, but i just haven't been able to get into it. I may give it another go.

Sharon loaned me My Name Is Red, by Orhun Pamuk, which, as far as i can tell, is an exploration of historical Turkey, through a variety of shifting and sometimes abstract narrative voices. For example the color red. .. Which sounds exactly up my alley, but i read a chapter or so and some pages at random and again wasn't grabbed. Perhaps i'm just in a light-fare mood.

So meanwhile, thank god for Terry Pratchett. His discworld books are so incredibly formulaic but really satisfying. Like a can of Pringles. This installment was Going Postal, which at first blush seems to be about the post office, but in fact is more about the internet. Just once i would like to see Lord Veterinari play the role of villain.

Currently reading some PG Wodehouse, whom i love. I'm careful to never go on a Wodehouse binge, because thus far there's always been more Wodehouse to read, and i dread the thought of that well running dry. The collection at hand is Blandings Castle, and delicious.

more angela carter

Angela Carter is fantastic. I went on to read a collection of three novels, The Magic Toyshop, The infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, and Wise Children.

The Magic Toyshop was written early, and is more or less a coming-of-age story about a young girl mixed with puppetry and strange magic, not always good. It explores sexual politics & power, and is quite good.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman was written in 1972, and is a a psychedelic masterpiece. I feel that TIDMODH is the novel which The Crying of Lot 49 was trying so hard to discover: a rambling heteromorphic journey through psychological landscapes, but where (imo) Lot 49 is one of the world's most annoying and tedious reads, TIDMODH is totally pleasurable. I have to admit i was free with skipping over parts that began to bore me, but the plot os so non-linear and non-representational that it seemed okay.

Finally, Wise Children is the real crowning jewel in this collection. Written very late in her life (1991), when Carter was about 50, it's the story of identical twin sisters reflecting back on their life as burlesque and movie starlets from the vantage point of sixty or seventy. The title refers to the saying (which i hadn't fully grappled with previously) "It's a wise child that knows it's own father", so you can imagine that there's a fair amount of paternity hijinks, and possibly even maternity too. As always, Carter is frank and charming on the topics of sex, and manages to weave an integrated tale of sexuality from childhood through septagenarianhood. The word "menarchy" appears, you may be sure. I can't recommend this story enough, it's fantastic.