Oates's novel brings Marilyn back to life for a mind-numbing 700+ pages, a Lazarus style resurrection so tedious that never have I been so ready for tOates's novel brings Marilyn back to life for a mind-numbing 700+ pages, a Lazarus style resurrection so tedious that never have I been so ready for the main character in a novel to just pack it in and die already.
Oates is a talented writer. Fantastic, even. And yet...this book is flawed. Deeply flawed. For one, it is entirely too long. It's filled with sentences, paragraphs, and even whole chapters that add nothing to the book. They seem to exist solely for the purpose of Oates showing off her skill. Once or twice, this is fine; but it gets old, with the final third of the book flying completely off the rails. Do we really need a whole chapter about Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando going to a drag show to witness a drag performer impersonate Marilyn? Do we need a whole chapter about the backstory to "The Sharpshooter," who may be a real person but who also may just be a metaphor? Do we need an entire paragraph illustrating the similarities of JFK to Fidel Castro? I get it, Joyce. You've got some showy writer skillz that you wanna let loose on my ass. But being an adept writer only works if the substance does as well. Here, we get paragraphs of dazzling writing that, rather than leaving the reader exhilarated, instead leaves the reader exhausted. Don't waste my time showing me what you can do just for the hell of it. Waste my time showing me what you can do in a way that serves the purpose of your novel.
Additionally, I had an issue with Oates's characterization of Marilyn's mental state. I'm guessing that her portrayal of Marilyn as a woman who appears to only act when prodded by others plays into the idea that men, the film industry, hell, even the world, made Marilyn into an object onto which they projected their own desires, wishes, biases, etc. Of course Marilyn didn't have a cogent ego, because she existed only as a symbol for others. Marilyn, after all, wasn't even real; Norma Jean was. Cool, Psych 101, I get it, but Oates is never successful at tying this characterization to Marilyn's more public persona. Oates essentially portrays Marilyn as so childlike and psychologically fractured that it's a wonder she can even speak coherent sentences to other characters, much less that she could establish a career as THE actress of the 1950s. I get the idea that "Marilyn" was a character she played, but playing a character requires some sort of mental stability, some sort of purposefulness. When Oates has other people in the book recount their interactions with Marilyn, such as retelling a bawdy joke Marilyn told to them, I always thought "HOW?!?!" Perhaps Oates did this purposefully, but to me it feels sloppy. Characterization sacrificed for the purpose of "SAYING SOMETHING IMPORTANT."
The book (and, presumably, Oates) does show a great deal of respect and sympathy for Marilyn and her plight. Celebrity unfairly eclipsed Monroe's talent as an actress, and probably continues to do so to this day. But Oates's take on her life lacks cohesion and substance. She says at the beginning that those looking for a strict biography should look elsewhere. Fair, but in constructing her alternate reality, Oates should have at least given it a veneer of truth to ground the points she was trying to make.
Also, this book was made into a TV movie starring Ashley Judd as Marilyn...as if poor Marilyn hasn't already suffered enough....more
**spoiler alert** This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is an inventive and witty novel. It reminded me of the Mel Brooks/Meryl Streep film "Defending Yo**spoiler alert** This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is an inventive and witty novel. It reminded me of the Mel Brooks/Meryl Streep film "Defending Your Life." While Harriet is not dead and on trial in the afterlife, the novel does take the approach of displaying certain key scenes from Harriet's past in random order, asking her to make sense of them and, in turn, the life she has created for herself. This structure allows for the novel to continuously reveal more and more about Harriet, creating a fully realized portrait of a woman born just a bit too soon to enjoy the benefits of modernity and feminism. Harriet Chance's life is interesting more for what she was unable to accomplish than for what she was, for the ways in which the society into which she was born crushed her aspirations in ways both big and small, leaving her contemptuous while at the same time asking her to be grateful. Harriet Chance's life, made up of the moments we see, illuminates how a lack of choice stymies growth and actualization. It's good stuff.
But there's bad stuff, too, and it is this bad stuff that prevents me from giving a higher rating for this book. For one thing, we find out near the end of the novel (although it is heavily implied throughout) that Harriet was sexually molested as a young girl by a family friend. At one point, the omniscient narrator essentially states that, although only nine years old, Harriet might have been able to prevent her assault had she simply resisted, cried out, kicked a little. This is, quite simply, offensive and gross. I realize Harriet is a fictional character, but no victim of sexual assault, real or fictional, old or young, male or female, should ever be questioned as to whether they "did enough" to prevent what happened to them. It's victim blaming, and for victims of sexual assault who might read this novel, I would imagine it could possibly be very upsetting. It's an unnecessary argument to make, and it should have been edited out of the book.
Which brings me to the second negative: the editing. Did this book even have an editor? I found multiple spelling and grammatical errors in the text, ones that any copy or line editor should have caught. For instance, "fjord" spelled as "fiord," or a quote from a character who says "I've have to admit." One mistake like this I could forgive, but there are easily 10 or more. So many errors lend an amateur air to the text. This was not a self-published novel; it shouldn't read like one.
Finally, Evison comes up with a pinball game simile to describe the way the reader ricochets from one scene in Harriet's life to the next. But it's too twee to be worthwhile, and worse, he doesn't sustain it throughout the novel. It's a comparison that might be witty once, but Evison manages to simultaneously not commit to it wholeheartedly, and to also run it into the ground the times he does trot it out. Again, some judicious editing might have helped.
All in all, I'd recommend reading this book. The characters are engaging, the plot intriguing, and Evison's writing, while a bit ostentatious, has insight and comedic wit that put him a cut above the rest. But survivors of sexual assault, especially childhood survivors, should know there's a trigger warning that comes with the book. And please, please, Mr. Evison, for all of our sakes, get a better editor for your next novel!...more
It takes Patti LuPone all of three pages in her memoir before she starts complimenting herself. She states that for decades (decades!) people of all kIt takes Patti LuPone all of three pages in her memoir before she starts complimenting herself. She states that for decades (decades!) people of all kinds had been telling her she simply had to play the character of Mama Rose in "Gypsy." That she was perfect for it, born for it. When I read this to my boyfriend, he responded "Yeah, I have no doubt people told her that, because just like Mama Rose, Patti LuPone is a monster who doesn't see herself as a monster." Truer words have never been spoken.
Patti's memoir is interesting, not necessarily because her life is interesting (though it is), but because the memoir's purpose and execution are so at odds with each other. The memoir is self-serving, as all memoirs are intended to be, in that she only writes about things that either A) she helped make a success or B) were a failure, but not because of her, so don't worry, she's still great. The problem is that Patti LuPone, diva extraordinaire, is the one writing these words, so that even though she's trying to elicit your sympathy and make herself come across as the lovable protagonist, she ends up coming off as an egotistical sociopath. You almost end up rooting for the people against her. It's hard to be on her side (and, make no mistake, there are points where you should be on her side based on the things that happen to her) when her basic response to any sort of problem is, "it's not my fault, it's someone else's!" For example, at one point, she talks about starring in a production of Chekhov's "Three Sisters," and states that at the curtain call, the women who played the nominal siblings (which included Ms. LuPone) were booed. She then states something like "but I'm sure those boos were for the other two, and not for me!" I think she means this as a joke, but I couldn't swear to this under oath. It's entirely possible that she truly believed it, as the book makes it seem like Ms. LuPone harbors an almost delusional confidence in her abilities. This is the woman, after all, who, right before her name was called as the Tony award winner for her role as Evita, was so sure she would win that she shoved her purse into her friend's lap and barked "here, hold this!" so that she wouldn't have to waste a second in getting to the stage after her name was called.
She also comes across as terribly petty and, frankly, slightly unstable. Upon learning that, despite having a contract, she would not be originating the role of Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" on Broadway, she has a full on temper tantrum that includes smashing her dressing room and throwing a lamp out of a two story window. She was 45 years old when this happened. I am 31 and can't imagine doing anything like that. Furthermore, she goes to great lengths to rake Glenn Close over the coals for never contacting her after Glenn was announced as Broadway's new Norma. However, it was Ms. LuPone who, upon hearing that Glenn would be starring as Norma in the LA version of "Sunset," stipulated in her contract that Glenn was in no way allowed to come to the London cast's opening night, nor could she be anywhere in the vicinity of the theater during the London cast's rehearsals. It doesn't take a genius to assume that word of these stipulations made its way back to Ms. Close. Assuming that, why on earth would she have reached out to a woman who clearly was going to great lengths to keep a distance between them? But again, it's never Patti's fault, right?
That said, anyone with a passing knowledge of current Broadway lore or of Ms. LuPone herself is probably already well aware of her diva-like antics. And while her memoir both plays down while simultaneously epitomizing that character trait, the fact remains that she is a talented, driven woman who has achieved much success and has some interesting insights into the world of acting and the theater. Furthermore, her desire to get you on her side leads to some truly no-holds-barred criticisms of various power players in the theater world, which means that even though you may come away not agreeing with her, the memoir does dish in a way that few memoirs do. Where some memoirs may tread lightly for fear of retribution, Ms. LuPone clearly could care less about burning any bridges, so there's an excitement of the "oh no she didn't!" kind as you read her take downs of people like Andrew Lloyd Weber. Spoiler Alert: She hates him and it was all his fault!
In the end, whatever your view is of Patti LuPone, this memoir probably won't do much to change your mind. But it's a quick read, with some interesting gossip, so if you have any interest in it at all, I'd recommend it. Just be prepared to come face to face with the biggest ego this side of Mariah Carey. And if you, too, are a monster who doesn't see yourself as a monster, you'll probably love it....more
I once read a review of the movie "Sleepover" in Entertainment Weekly where the critic ended his critique by saying something like "the only way thisI once read a review of the movie "Sleepover" in Entertainment Weekly where the critic ended his critique by saying something like "the only way this movie would have any redeeming qualities is if it ended with a shot of the Earth exploding." Such a sentiment applies to this book as well. Do you want to feel better about your own dysfunctional family by reading about a sociopathic one? Are you interested in a story that has scenes where a teenage girl deliberately drowns a cat in a bathtub, where a husband and wife engage in a knife fight shortly before having sex, and where family members would rather murder each other than endure each other's presence?? Well, here's the book for you!
I can't even say the writing is particularly good. It's not very descriptive, more nuts and bolts (excessive nuts and bolts.) Stead also has the annoying habit of having one of her characters frequently adopt a low class dialect, but then puts in parentheses the regular English pronunciation of whatever it is he's saying. If she was so worried about her readers either being too stupid or, more likely, too literate to understand her phonetic dialect, she should have obliterated it altogether, rather than essentially force her hapless readers to read the same bullshit twice.
TL;DR. Excessive (and excessively poor) writing describes a family of sociopaths, none of whom is likeable or relatable, and not enough of whom are dead by the end of the book. PS: cat lovers beware....more
I would have given this book three stars, but the two star description of "it was ok" seemed more apt.
Here's the thing: this book is entirely about pI would have given this book three stars, but the two star description of "it was ok" seemed more apt.
Here's the thing: this book is entirely about plot. The writing is, simply put, technically sufficient at best. You can tell this is a first novel, by a writer who is more invested in story than technique. If that's your thing, then you'll probably think this is an amazing book. But if you like a bit more flourish with your plot, then you'll likely find it to be somewhat tedious, if interesting.
The general plot revolves around a lost baby and what happens to it. It's interesting, although the last third of the book drags. The main characters spend a lot of time sobbing, crying, and, in the case of the female characters, collapsing or sinking to their knees (you'd think everyone in this book would have a fainting couch in their home, given how prevalent the inability of a woman to remain upright seems to be). In general, if you're looking for a book about the consequences of a fight between two families over one baby, I would recommend the far superior and better written Fortune's Rocks, by Anita Shreve.
Additionally, the dialogue in this book is awful. People sound like they're acting in a soap opera 24/7. Which takes away from the impact the story is supposed to have. It's hard to take these people seriously when the things they say are laughably melodramatic.
And yet. I was pulled in by the story. And I did get a little choked up by the ending. Of course, I also get choked up by Hallmark commercials. That doesn't make them great literature. ...more
All you need to know about Ms. Alley's skill as a writer is in the title, where she first uses an art metaphor for men before suddenly switching to aAll you need to know about Ms. Alley's skill as a writer is in the title, where she first uses an art metaphor for men before suddenly switching to a food metaphor. The effect of this is nonsense.
This book is riddled with poor writing. If there was a ghost writer present, they were either incompetent at their job, or chose to have so ghost-like a presence as to be unnoticeable. Alley capitalizes words unnecessarily, I guess to let the reader know that these words have emphasis or are being yelled, but they're also followed by about 50 exclamation points (that is a conservative estimate), which accomplish the same effect. I guess she thought, "if I want to get my point across here, I better turn the dial to 11!"
Her metaphors/similes are terrible (see the title), and often offensive. At one point she writes, "Like a black man to the KKK, they were indistinguishable to me!" Does she think that's funny? Or, worse, witty?
The dialogue she reconstructs here is wooden and, frankly, unrealistic, which is mind boggling, since this is, supposedly, a memoir, meaning the words she has people saying were actually uttered. If that's true, my response is "on what planet?" If you read this and say to yourself "yes! This is how people talk and interact in my life," then I feel sorry for you.
Worse, Alley is a lazy writer. At one point, in writing about her Cheers co-stars, she says "Below, I will do my best to describe their amazing amazingness." I can't believe an editor didn't force a change there. Alley often makes up words when she feels like it, my personal favorite being "sparklery," which I guess is meant to imply something has the characteristics of a sparkler, but I don't quite understand why "sparkly," a real word, wouldn't have sufficed, since the main property of a sparkler is that it is sparkly. She also repeats herself. The opening to one (short) paragraph is something like "Maybe there is a grain of truth in that..." and then, less than two sentences later, in the same paragraph, she says "maybe there is some honesty to that." YES WE KNOW BECAUSE YOU SAID THE SAME THING IN THE TOPIC SENTENCE TO THIS PARAGRAPH.
Look. I get it. Kirstie Alley is an actress. She's not Toni Morrison. I knew what I was getting when I picked this book up. My critiques are off point because she shouldn't be expected to write well. To which I say, she should still be able to write in a literate manner, because we are wasting paper and other publishing resources to put this book out into the world, and it should, therefore, have some value.
Finally, perhaps all this wouldn't matter if the book itself were interesting; if the stories Alley had to tell were intriguing, or salacious, or profound. But they are not. Alley tries to spin tales of sex and desire and men that reflect the glamour of the life she's lived, but in trying so hard to be sexy, the end result is laughable and, often, off putting. If anything, this book is a testament to the fact that Alley managed to build a stunningly successful career portraying herself as a sex kitten when, in fact, she apparently is anything but sexy. If she had dug into this idea, explored the dichotomy between self and image, maybe this book could have been something. Instead, we got this piece of trash.