First, let me see that reading this novel was like drinking a Moscow Mule in a chilled copper cup – frothy, refreshing, crisp and pleasantly retro. IFirst, let me see that reading this novel was like drinking a Moscow Mule in a chilled copper cup – frothy, refreshing, crisp and pleasantly retro. I enjoyed it. But it raised a whole heap of questions for me and I’m going to hash those out here…because I don’t know what else to do with them.
1) Towles had definitely read a lot Dawn Powell. He is deeply in her debt. This novel is basically a modern dude trying to write a Dawn Powell novel. And he’s so lucky – because so few people know her extraordinary work so he can seem like a particular kind of genius, inventing a novelistic style that people compare to Fitzgerald, because that’s the novelist our culture has chosen to remember from this period – rather than the popular and brilliant Dawn Powell. This isn’t a Gatsby novel. It’s Turn, Magic Wheel. It’s The Locusts Have No King. It’s A Time to Be Born. So much of it has almost direct plot points but without the wit, the bite or the extraordinary prose of Ms. Powell.
2) When I first encountered this book, I decided not to read it due to the author’s biography. I had little interest in reading an Ivy League investment professional’s take on the late 30s. But then it re-crossed my path and I succumbed to its charms, because it was just right there. Many of my questions and feelings about this novel are responses to the author’s biography and what I assume his lens is because of it. I’m aware that this might not be fair. Is it possible that an Ivy League finance dude could imagine a “proletariat” heroine in the 30s? Sure. Maybe. However, an Ivy League finance dude who included his Ivy League credentials in his bio is ASKING for a reading that incorporates the privileged lens he’s writing through. It does not seem to be an accident that the two most blameless, heroic characters in the novel (who seem to have all the pearls of wisdom) are the two super privileged dudes – the one with a house in the Hamptons and the other a college grad charmer with whimsical paper airplanes.
3) Meanwhile, the daughter of Russian orthodox immigrants is the literary equivalent of the manic pixie dream girl. Except quiet and with books. She also consistently makes financial decisions, not like someone who actually struggles with money, but like a person who has never had to make hard decisions about finances. She consistently behaves like a person of privilege. She’s the girl from The Devil Wears Prada but in the 30s. Likewise, her love interest – who, (tiny SPOILER) in the most improbable of choices of an actual unprivileged person – chooses to give up his money and go work on the docks. Only an investment banker who dreams of giving it all up would find redemption for his aspiring hero in this way. I found it ridiculous. Like so much of this book.
4) Listen. Dawn Powell MAY have said some casual racist shit in her works. I can’t remember – because if she did, it didn’t stick with me – because she was writing in a racist time and she was a white lady. I just assume she must have have. But Mr. Towles lives in THIS century when casual racism, while certainly “period” is just horribly problematic. If you’re not going to be helpful in your race relations in your period piece, just please skip it. I don’t need to read some privileged white dude’s take on “negroes” in the 30s. Just…ugh. It becomes the sort of novel I’m embarrassed to have someone read over my shoulder on the subway.
5) On a similar theme….I will give Towles points for trying to write women. I appreciate that we have a woman at the center of this novel. But there were so many instances where I thought, “No woman would ever think that or say that.” Not even in the 30s. And you know how I know? Because I read Dawn Powell and her women are complicated and ambitious and rich in detail. Also – have you ever met a woman whose favorite book is Walden? Like it? Sure. Lots of women like it just fine. But Favorite Book? I don’t know. Especially not this girl that Towles wrote. A Russian immigrant’s daughter’s favorite book is Walden?!?! You know whose favorite book is Walden? Investment guys who fantasize about quitting their jobs and moving to the woods.
6) Dawn Powell called herself a writer of satire. And she defined satire. “Satire is people as they are; romanticism, people as they would like to be; realism, people as they seem with their insides left out.” Her books are both painfully funny and true. One of the pleasures of her work is getting all the pleasure of (what is now) the retro atmosphere with a real bite underneath it. Under all the hats and old fashioneds, she’s revealing something true and interesting about ourselves. She has an axe to grind, a point to make and she makes it with love. She’s a Moscow Mule, too – but with a hell of a kick. ...more
There were some really heartbreaking truth-telling essays in this collection. I think, if it had been billed as a book of essays rather than a memoir,There were some really heartbreaking truth-telling essays in this collection. I think, if it had been billed as a book of essays rather than a memoir, I'd have been a lot more into it. That said, Valenti is doing great work out in the world so I don't begrudge her a few essays that didn't really hang together as a team or float my boat. ...more
This book has inspired my new Required Feminist Reading list. Rebecca Traister blew the doors off of my thinking in a lot of ways. I felt like I underThis book has inspired my new Required Feminist Reading list. Rebecca Traister blew the doors off of my thinking in a lot of ways. I felt like I understood things about my life that I'd only glanced at before. Her analysis of friendships between women made me appreciate anew how amazing my friends are and how silly it is that the culture doesn't acknowledge those ties. I was also stunned by her look into urban areas as centers for women and it made me understand why I am so much more comfortable in urban spaces. You do not need to be single to read this. You don't even need to be a lady. But if you are either or both of those things, this book will reveal some empowering truths about your own experience. Read it. It's like adding a friend to your circle of female friends....more
Of all the Victoria Woodhull biographies I've read (and I've read a few) this is my favorite so far. It's a rollicking read and features a lot about hOf all the Victoria Woodhull biographies I've read (and I've read a few) this is my favorite so far. It's a rollicking read and features a lot about her life in spiritualism, which other biographies tend to dismiss. ...more
I was quoting the chapter on Archery and Mastery for weeks, nay, months after reading this book. It all felt very potent at the time. But I find, allI was quoting the chapter on Archery and Mastery for weeks, nay, months after reading this book. It all felt very potent at the time. But I find, all these months later that I cannot remember much about it. It's important stuff and well written. But I read and listen to a lot of stuff on Creativity so at a certain point it all starts to blend together. But the archers stuck with me.
And I'd read this book again just to remember all the things....more