With its short page count, "Reflections in a Golden Eye" is more of a novella than a novel. What is disappointing ab Compelling drama, but oddly cold
With its short page count, "Reflections in a Golden Eye" is more of a novella than a novel. What is disappointing about it is that it takes about fifty pages (the majority of the novella) to get involved in the characters and the plot. It starts intriguingly enough, with the promise of a murder involving the central characters ("two officers, a soldier, two women, a Filipino, and a horse."), but McCullers' prose is so cold and distant that it makes the plot inaccessible to the reader. The descriptions of the setting benefit from this and become starkly beautiful -- "Then suddenly the sun was gone. There was a chill in the air and a light, pure wind. It was time for retreat. From far away came the sound of the bugle, clarified by distance and echoing in the woods with a lost hollow tone. The night was near at hand." -- but the characters are rendered so abstruse by it that it feels slightly maddening. After thirty pages someone asked me how the book was so far and the only word that came to mind was bizarre. The violence (both subtle and overt) is startling and seems too unreasoned.
But stick with it. In the last thirty pages or so you begin to comprehend the pathos of the characters and their situations, and suspense begins to build as the novella heads to its shattering climax. What McCullers is exploring is how repressed desire can turn to intense hatred, and how that loathing can turn to violence in one sudden moment. The characters are all stuck in their own traps, and most of them are being driven mad by desperation. At the center is Captain Weldon Penderton, a repressed homosexual whose desires are so internalized that the only expression they can find is rage and despair. When his colleague, and his wife's lover, remarks that another character would do better in life if he conformed to the mainstream a little more Penderton angrily disagrees, bitterly wondering "that any fulfillment obtained at the expense of normalcy is wrong, and should not be allowed to bring happiness. In short, it is better, because it is morally honorable, for the square peg to keep scraping about the round hole rather than to discover and use the unorthodox square that would fit it?" When you consider the ramifications that a life of trying to scrape into a round hole have had on him, you can't help but feel for Penderton. This becomes all the more resonant when you consider that "Reflections in a Golden Eye" was written at a time when McCullers' own marriage (to a bisexual soldier) was failing as a result of their homosexual affairs.
In the end "Reflections" is a startling and intelligent, not to mention socially important, work. I just wish that it wasn't so hard to get into in the first place, because its initial heartlessness is a misgiving. There actually is a lot of emotion and depth in this novella, and yet it is only toward the ending that it truly shines....more
Jim Willard and Bob Ford are high school friends in the 1930s. Bob is a year older and graduating from"When the eyes are shut, the true world begins."
Jim Willard and Bob Ford are high school friends in the 1930s. Bob is a year older and graduating from high school when the two young men go on a camping trip that turns into an illicit night of passion. Jim is hopeful that they will be together forever, but Bob joins the Merchant Marines and splits town. Undaunted, Jim goes to sea himself, beginning a seven-year odyssey to reunite with Bob.
Along the way, Jim accepts that he just isn't attracted to women and has several affairs with men, including an actor in Hollywood and a writer in New Orleans. None of them can replace his fixation on Bob--indeed, to Jim they are merely placeholders. He has placed himself on hold, and everything he encounters is but a temporary burden until his life can finally begin with Bob.
Of course, a reunion does eventually happen and it does not go according to Jim's plan. Bob has married and barely remembers their tryst--looking at it with embarrassment when prompted. Jim gets him drunk and tries to make a move but is rejected, leading Jim to commit a violent crime against Bob, who has been the object of his every desire for almost a decade at this point.
As a reading experience, TCatP is extraordinarily depressing, especially if you happen to be a confused twenty-year old looking to explore LGBT literature so you can understand yourself. That feeling of despair has stayed with me in the ten years since I first read this book. However, it could be argued that Jim's pathos does not come from his homosexuality but from his inability to let go of the past. The destruction he brings about is from his desperation not to let go of a wish that was, frankly, never going to come true. At any point in the narrative Jim could have made an honest try at life but he rejected it to tilt at windmills instead.
Jim is also, quite consciously on Vidal's part, a rather absolute rejection of the stereotype that all gay men are either feminine or lonely, bookish types. Jim is an athlete, for one thing, and a good one at that. He makes anyone afraid that they don't fit in with the stereotype of homosexuality feel less alone, in a big way. Of course, you can't forget that he's also a cautionary tale for a more general audience. He's a complex, multi-faceted being who defies simple categories.
Yes, it's depressing. But this is a solid, important work by a writer at the top of his game. And I can guarantee you from my own personal experience that this is a novel that will haunt you.
For more Great LGBT Book Recommendations, please visit the LGBT Books page on my blog....more
When I first read about “Netherland” it was presented as a 9/11 novel. This is not entirely the case. In fact, 9/1 “How do you re-imagine your life?”
When I first read about “Netherland” it was presented as a 9/11 novel. This is not entirely the case. In fact, 9/11 the day barely figures into the plotline at all – it is the tumultuous after-effects of 9/11 that are explored in Joseph O’Neill’s infinitely clever, if flawed, novel. At the outset we meet Hans van den Broek in present-day London, where he has recently relocated in order to rejoin his wife and son after a trial separation. He gets some sad news regarding Chuck Ramkissoon, a former friend of his from his days as a single man reeling from 9/11 angst and his family’s abrupt departure, news which sets Hans off on the reverie that is the plot of “Netherland”. In his mind he retraces the years after that fateful September in 2001, when his happy marriage began to crack and, literally, split apart, he lost interest in his successful career, and a desperate loneliness led him into a friendship with the charismatic but morally suspect Chuck Ramkissoon. Through Hans’ odyssey O’Neill does not explore 9/11 so much as he explores life in the post-9/11 world. But that is not all; O’Neill also delves deeply into the immigrant experience and the psychological effects of adopting another country as your own.
“It is truly a terrible thing when questions of love and family and home are no longer answerable.” After finding himself abandoned and confused, Hans begins a quest to rediscover himself. It all starts with something most New Yorkers – most Americans, in fact – would not even notice in their everyday life: cricket. Hans discovers a cricket league formed mostly by cab drivers and such who moved to the US from countries where cricket was a regular pastime. Hans has been unmoored in his own life, so he welcomes the opportunity to revisit a beloved sport and, through it, he attempts to put his life back into perspective – to regain the sense of control that has been stolen from him (“what was an inning if not a singular opportunity to face down, by dint of effort and skill and self-mastery, the variable world?”). Hans quickly discovers that cricket in New York is very different from the European version of the game he is accustomed to, and with this metaphor intact O’Neill uses American cricket to explore the larger theme of immigration: what compromises are made, what are the sacrifices, and what aspects of the self are lost when one moves from one country to another? What does one find? What are the gains? It’s actually rather fascinating. Were this and Hans’ desolation as he wanders alone in the city the primary focus of the novel it would have been better.
Unfortunately, O’Neill is more interested in introducing Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian émigré who schemes to bring cricket to the forefront of the American consciousness, and a fortune to himself in the process. His is the more traditional, prosaic tale of one man’s desperation for the American dream – heightened by the fact that as an immigrant, Chuck feels like he is only seeking what he was promised, but nevertheless the plotline feels stale and unimaginative. And that is particularly disappointing because the rest of “Netherland” sparkles with originality and wit. When it inevitably comes to light that Chuck has been dealing with shady characters to make his American dream a reality, sealing his fate once and for all, it is not terribly surprising or compelling. It’s too fitting, really.
“Netherland” is at its best when it is telling Hans’ story, and it is unfortunate then that the bulk of it is tied up so intimately with Chuck’s story – because Hans’ journey is infinitely more effecting and touching. Still, O’Neill proves to be a remarkably talented writer, and it will be interesting to see what his next move is.