OK--I've finally finished it! This is my second reading--first time, I read it aged around 16 or 17 and from what i've been able to find on the Net, mOK--I've finally finished it! This is my second reading--first time, I read it aged around 16 or 17 and from what i've been able to find on the Net, most female readers' reactions change quite drastically if they read the book a second time when they're older and married, perhaps also a mother.
Well, I'm 20 years older, married, a mother... But I see the book pretty much the same way I did then, the first time, which makes me wonder if a) I haven't changed that much or b) I was unusually astute teenager! :) Maybe both!
Marjorie Morningstar is in no way a great book, or a literary one, and yet undoubtedly it deserves a special place in 20th Century American writing. Wouk's prose is too loose, too pedestrian, too lazy, even, at odd times, and pretty often one wonders what happened to those 1950s book editors. On the other hand, his depiction of place, of that magical 1930s pre-war New York is sometimes magical and always compelling, though I do wonder why he dwelled so little on the Depression. Is it because Wouk was and is a clear conservative? is it because he cannot properly draw up an authentic picture of Roosevelt? Or is it simply a lack of literary talent? In the same vein, it's also strange how pretty much absent is the threat of Nazism and Hitler until almost the end, though, to Wouk's credit, he did a masterful job in this regard when he does finally get to it, in Marjorie's first European crossing and her meeting/relationship with Eden (and what a name!).
In many ways, M.M. is a classical mid-century young girl's coming-of-age novel, complete with rebellion,staid parents, 'foolish' (read: unrealistic) daydreams, seduction by a Rake and loss of virginity. I think to most of us who at a similar age had had similar passionate but fruitless/pointless love affairs with charming, egotistical 'geniuses' a la Noel Airman, their love affair's ending came without surprise. I did root for Marjorie's decision at that point, though, because what (some) modern women know today that probably women in those days did not is that a) love is not enough (it doesn't matter how much he loves you, it has to be the right sort of love from the right man) and that b) you can't change anyone or attempt to take over the direction in their lives. Basically, if Noel wanted to 'settle down', build a successful 9-5 career, get married and have kids, he had to do it because he wanted that for himself, not because he loved Marjorie and knew she wanted that, thus in that way he could properly have her. Also, Noel is annoying and quite a fool from almost our first introduction of him, and nearly all of his 'speeches' and 'theories' sound like Major Male BS to me today. Lastly, there's also the point of a girl's self-respect. The guy talked and talked and talked his head off to and around her, then went off and had sex with 'easier' females. Who wants that? She was well rid of him.
On the other hand, Marjorie herself, while an appealing character, had her ups and downs in the sympathetic department--and i guess this is a result of being a product of Wouk himself, a man who is clearly not A Girl's Best Friend. Wouk is basically a dire conservative and a reactionary who sees little authenticity in the fair sex and who, at least when he wrote the book, could imagine no other ending for a 'bad girl' than deformity and no other ending for a 'good girl' than a successful husband, a solid marriage, a house and kids in the suburbs. It's sort of funny and tragic simultaneously. But it's not funny that for the book's ending, when Marjorie finally marries the nice successful Jewish lawyer (with the right initials, M and S) he almost bolts because he can't stomach that she's already lost her virginity to Noel and, though he accepts her anyway, it's as a girl with a 'deformity'! Jesus...
My last point is in regards to Wally--an awful, awful character. He's young, annoying, affecting, full of hot air. I never doubted for a minute that he'd make it in the business (I've worked in Hollywood and have known countless young guys like him) but his obsession with Marjorie struck me as juvenile and the last chapter, in his voice, as the typical nerd-who-made-good. Well, so what? Just because a guy's an annoying nerd and you don't want him does not mean that, in later years when he returns as a successful adult, you now have to appreciate him differently. He's still a nerd, albeit a successful one--possibly, he's still annoying. and Wouk's Wally The Nerd himself admits to career success but a divorce......more