[this is a highly-edited excerpt of my in-depth review, which can be found at joeymanley.com.
“The Wife” is about a successful, womanizing, Philip-Roth[this is a highly-edited excerpt of my in-depth review, which can be found at joeymanley.com.
“The Wife” is about a successful, womanizing, Philip-Roth-like “big novel” writer, and his second wife, who had at one time wanted to be a writer, but gave it up to support his ambitions. The conflict comes out of the husband’s serial infidelity with college-age fangirls, and the wife’s professional resentment. The milieu is decidedly privileged: they meet at Smith College, where she’s a student and he’s a professor. They move to the Greenwich Village of the 50s, where they briefly live a “penniless” Bohemian lifestyle, hanging out with famous writers and roustabouts, until the husband’s career kicks into high gear. After that: dinner parties, academic functions, award banquets, and highballs. In the first few pages of Chapter One, the wife, now in her sixties, decides she wants to get a divorce, while sitting beside her husband in an airplane on their way to Finland, to pick up his biggest award yet. Most of the rest of the book is a flashback detailing their marriage history.
In a lot of ways, this is the “Wide Sargasso Sea” version of the kind of novels the husband undoubtedly writes, the feminist counter-narrative: what about that faithful, loyal (or crazy, bitter) wife (or ex-wife) who’s always there, off to the side, locked in the figurative attic, in any given Roth or Updike or Cheever book about a successful middle-aged-crazy man? Here’s what’s about her.
I didn’t mind reading it. I liked it okay. I doubt that I’ll read a lot more by Meg Wolitzer, but maybe....more
“The Yellow Birds” is about a terrible thing that happens in Iraq to a soldier there, and the terrible way his friend, the POV character, deals with t“The Yellow Birds” is about a terrible thing that happens in Iraq to a soldier there, and the terrible way his friend, the POV character, deals with that terrible thing, both in the moment and after coming home.
I started off hating this book due to its beautiful prose. I am not saying that I was jealous. I am saying that the beauty of the prose irritated me. I ended up liking it pretty well, despite the beautiful prose. Which still irritated me.
I reviewed this fully on my blog. Short version: kind of funny, derivative (reminds me of Ken Kesey or the M*A*S*H book), worth reading, not mind-blowI reviewed this fully on my blog. Short version: kind of funny, derivative (reminds me of Ken Kesey or the M*A*S*H book), worth reading, not mind-blowing....more
I was looking for a pop history, something more journalistically responsible than the typical fan history, but less academically rigorous than this. "I was looking for a pop history, something more journalistically responsible than the typical fan history, but less academically rigorous than this. "Men of Tomorrow" for the alternative comics scene, I guess, is what I imagined this might be. It isn't even close to that. It's mostly a lot of close reading and interpretive study of individual canonical texts. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But. Yeah. Not a book to read for pleasure unless you are yourself an academic critic, I think. How it stands up as a work of capital-C Criticism is for others to decide. It has been a long time since i cared enough about this kind of writing to muddle through any substantial sampling of it without getting bored. It may or may not be brilliant as a set of close readings of key comics texts surrounded by some smattering of historical contextualization. I dunno. The dry prose and the academic tics alienated me. My poor rating reflects the lack of enjoyment I got out of this book personally, and is not a reflection on its success or failure in reaching the goals it set for itself. Like I said: it may or may not be brilliant for what it is, but it is definitely not what I was looking for....more
I had forgotten that Edith Wharton was an interior designer. The most interesting parts of this book describe her impressions of the Moroccan design aI had forgotten that Edith Wharton was an interior designer. The most interesting parts of this book describe her impressions of the Moroccan design aesthetic, in clothing, architecture furnishings, etc. her political and social "insights" are as poisonous as one might expect from a provincial white lady of great privilege in the early 20th century. The rest is blah. Blah....more
Great start, powerful ending, way too much middle for my tastes. Sort of like the "War and Peace" of the Singularity. A vast array of POV characters aGreat start, powerful ending, way too much middle for my tastes. Sort of like the "War and Peace" of the Singularity. A vast array of POV characters and subplots left me reading ten, twenty, thirty pages sometimes thinking, "Wait. Who was this guy again?" Ended up liking it and feeling that the slog was worthwhile, but, yes, there were weeks at a time when it felt like I'd never make any sense of it. One note: consistently fine prose made even the confusing parts fun to read. Maybe that's why I got through to the end, when it did, finally, come together and make beautiful sense....more
Sam Steward, the subject of this biography, had sex with a lot of people, and documented every encounter on 3x5 index cards. The running count comes tSam Steward, the subject of this biography, had sex with a lot of people, and documented every encounter on 3x5 index cards. The running count comes to a little under 1000. Some of those people were famous, like the masterful Rudolph Valentino (whose pubic hair Steward saved and incorporated into a mantelpiece trophy he made for himself), the odious Lord Alfred Douglas (Steward wanted his mouth "to go where Oscar's had gone," only to learn later that "Bosie" and Wilde had only mostly given each other handjobs), and the as-yet-undiscovered Rock Hudson ("ex-Navy, v. good looking" was Steward's note about this encounter, which took place in the elevators at Marshall Fields when the two of them were co-workers there).
Sex wasn't the only thing he did with his life, though it was maybe the most consistent thing he did with it. He actually had several careers, each of which was accomplished enough to have satisfied most people, in its own way.
Steward's first career, as a young novelist, earned him entree into the inner circle of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (and through them, just about anybody else you've ever heard of during that era who was working in literature and/or the visual arts). He never lived up to the expectations of his literary set, though, fizzling out after a promising first book. Those expectations were very high, though, and most young novelists never even reach the heights that Steward managed to reach in the first flush of his promise. Who among us can lay claim to the friendship and patronage of a figure as important to the history of art and literature as Gertrude Stein? So yeah. But then that fizzled.
Then he taught college for twenty years. At DePaul, he was a popular professor who (we learn later) had a profound effect on his students, causing many of them to choose lives as artists, thinkers, and creators. But Steward himself hated the gig, becoming addicted to "uppers" and alcohol during the course of his tenure there. To be a popular professor for twenty years is quite an accomplishment, though. No?
Next he became a tattoo artist, becoming the "official" tattoist of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang at the height of their notoriety, and eventually mentoring two of the most influential figures in the art-form, Cliff Raven and the ubiquitous Ed Hardy. Tattoo aficionados to this day speak of the fineness of his line and the artfulness he introduced to the field, at a time when it was mostly about machismo and marking for the sake of marking.
His sexual documentation became a major source for Alfred Kinsey's landmark studies on sexuality in America, and he developed a deep friendship with the man.
Late in his life, wrote some of the most influential of the early gay "pulp" novels, the Phil Andros series.
Then [SPOILER ALERT] he died, cramped and alone in an apartment filled with his hoard of books, papers, letters from famous people, and sexual memorabilia. Most people, until now, have never heard of him. Strike that: most people still have never heard of him.
Spring's prose is never sensationalistic, which, one imagines, was a difficult feat, given the subject matter. Like the people he surrounded himself with, I found myself getting a little bored toward the end, after the sex ran out, and he turned into an old crank organizing his neighborhood into anti-prostitution watches while he let his little lap dogs piss all over his belongings. But I'm an evil bitch like that.
If, like me, you have an interest in pre-Stonewall gay male sexuality, or if you just want to read up on one of the most strangely well-connected figures in the 20th century (and either look forward to, or can handle, reading lots and lots of descriptions of anonymous and semi-anonymous sexual encounters), then, yes, you should pick this up.
On a personal note: thanks to Steward, I find myself (via Steward's editor at St. Martin's, who was also my editor) connected by only two degrees of separation to some of the most famous figures of the 20th century -- many of whom he had sex with!
Very well-written, of course, but not the kind of book that inspires passionate advocacy -- or at least, not from me. I figured out the "twist" aboutVery well-written, of course, but not the kind of book that inspires passionate advocacy -- or at least, not from me. I figured out the "twist" about 2/3 of the way through, but maybe you're supposed to. I don't know. The hint that tipped me off was pretty heavy-handed, but then the narrator continued to obscure and be coy, so I thought maybe I wasn't supposed to know. Whatever. It's not an O. Henry story -- there's a lot more to it than "twist."
The good: the language itself, the poetic turns of phrase, the stark insights.
The bad: the narrator's passivity amounts to complicity in the events she describes, which is all to be expected, and thematically resonant, and in line with the historical situation of women during the years the story takes place, etc., etc., but also means that it's difficult to like this woman enough to want to spend time with her at all, especially given the length of the book. She's pretty repugnant when you really look at her.
My brain felt like it was 14 again, by which I mean I haven't, since then, until now, felt as alive and open to a work of fiction.
It tookMy brain felt like it was 14 again, by which I mean I haven't, since then, until now, felt as alive and open to a work of fiction.
It took a while to get going.
Some of the loose ends were wrapped up too quickly and predictably at the end (for example: the mysterious stranger appeared exactly one paragraph after I thought to myself, 'ah, it's time for the mysterious stranger to appear and reveal who he/she is').
So not perfect, no. Still the best book I've read in years....more