Tomorrow I was due for a long, boring car ride and needed something to pass the time. I perused the bo...moreIt was late and I needed to find a book to read.
Tomorrow I was due for a long, boring car ride and needed something to pass the time. I perused the books on my shelf. There were countless of paperbacks: trashy bodice rippers and old-time historical romances, mixed in with a plethora of newer Harlequin Presents and Science Fiction anthologies. There was “UC Davis’s Book of Dogs: A Complete Medical Reference for Dogs and Puppies” or “The Seven Language Dictionary” (with French, German, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian words translated into English). There lay a copy of Anne Tyler’s “Breathing Lessons,” for which she had won a Pulitzer Prize. Next to it was “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor,” by the renowned thespian Bruce Campbell. Of course I might yet again read "The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.” No? Perhaps then Paulina Simons’ “The Bronze Horseman,” a thick 800+ page epic in World War II Russia with even a Q & A reading section at the end.
Hmm? No. None of them would do. I would require audio for this lengthy trip and knew that thanks to the mighty technical wizards at Apple, I would be in good hands.
I sat on my faux-leather Staples chair at my scuffed, pressed-board desk and turned on my ancient HP desktop with a flickering 15" Dell flat-monitor. I perused the web with my cordless Microsoft mouse and wireless keypad. While the mouse took AA batteries, inconveniently the keyboard took AAA which I did not always keep in stock.
I connected my three-year-old metallic green 16 GB iPod to my iTunes account to look for something I could listen to on a long monotonous road trip. My iPod had a capacity for up to 4,000 songs and up to 24 hours of audio playback on a single charge. It had a 1.54-inch (diagonal) color TFT display with 240-by-240-pixel resolution (220 pixels per inch). Support for AAC, Protected AAC (iTunes Store), MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV audio formats. It had only come with a one-year limited warranty. I had not taken advantage of the extended warranty and was worried something might go astray.
I had wanted to use my husband’s newer iPod, the Apple iPod nano 16GB Green (7th Generation) with a 2.5-inch Multi-Touch color display with 240-by-432 pixel resolution. This was only 5.4-mm thin making it the thinnest iPod ever and had easy-to-use controls to quickly adjust volume, or play, pause, and change songs. Accessible to Bluetooth 4.0 and weighing in at only 1.1 ounces and 3.8 x 3 x 1.9 inches model, it was compatible with MD478LL/A Windows XP (SP3);Windows Vista; Windows 7;Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later.
Unfortunately since I could not find the specialized adapter for that particular iPod, I was forced to use the older model. I logged into my iTunes account and downloaded Steig Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” onto my older, yet still efficient, iPod.
The iPod had been developed in 2000 but not placed on the market until 2001. I was born in 1977 so I would have been 23 or 24 back then. Now, the time was late summer of 2014, and since I was born in autumn of 1977 I would be 37 in two months.
I grew up in Port Jefferson Station, NY but was born in the neighboring village of Port Jefferson as Port Jefferson Station had no hospitals, while Port Jefferson had two: Mather Hospital and St. Charles. I was born in St. Charles Hospital, as Mather Hospital did not tend to natal needs (neither pre- nor post-), and is now renowned for both its cardiac and bariatric surgery centers (fortunate, no?)
Incidentally, an American Rock Star named Elvis Aaron Presley donated some funds to St. Charles Hospital’s many years back, as attributed to him on a 1x4-inch plaque located on the wall near the back elevator. (I would insert a joke here, but Larsson’s writing doesn’t allow for much humor. He was very serious. Before I ever saw a picture of him, I knew he’d be a dough-faced man-boy, with steel rimmed glasses.)
Port Jefferson was called Drowned Meadow back in the days of the American Revolution. It lies on the Long Island Sound, and on a clear day you can see Connecticut several miles across the water. The Port Jefferson, NY/Bridgeport, CT Ferry line has hundreds of travelers each day, thousands more during the busy summer season. My parents once took the ferry from Port Jefferson to Bridgeport soon after they married. They were married in 1976. As I was born in 1977, that would have made me negative 18 months old at the time. I don’t remember much of it.
NO! I can’t do it! I did not like this book enough to get that snarky about it. It bored me. And then angered me, and then bored me, and then angered me because it was boring me. I’m not that talented a reviewer to skewer a book I hate by launching into an insightful parody.
I will however launch into an inciteful tirade!
I found BR Meyer’s “A Reader’s Manifesto an Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in the American Literary Prose” to be a useful gauge in analyzing the Girl w/ the Dragon Tattoo. No, TGwtDT was not published in the US, but it did become a blockbuster-literary-phenom here, so I feel using that book is appropriate. What differentiates books like “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” from other lengthy blockbusters like, say Gone Girl is that the former takes itself much too earnestly to be appreciated. TGwtDT is a bestseller, yes, but it deals with a serious topic that NO OTHER BOOK has touched: violence against women!
I read a review of TGwtDT that derided readers who complained the book was too slow, and chided readers for not knowing how to skim over the unimportant parts! That’s how REAL readers read, don’t you know! Look, I’m no speed-reader, but I’m a believer in that words have meanings. They exist for a reason. If I skim a lot, it’s a sign that the author has lost my interest.
This belief seems to be confusing for some. Like the literary critics in Meyer’s manifesto write: “‘If anyone has earned the right to bore us for our own good, it’s [NAME REDACTED],” writes Salon Martha Russo. “Since [HE] is smarter than we are,” intones John Leonard in the New York Review of Books, “trust [HIM].”
Such is the early 21st century mindset about LITTER-A-CHORE.
Since I do not own the physical version of TGwtDT, and don't intend to everagain listen to the audio, I cannot quote verbatim from his book. So I will borrow from Myer’s manifesto when he criticizes Cormac McCarthy’s tiresome writing from one of McCarthy's later works:
“He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her.”
Replace eggs and tortilla with sandwiches and bread and add in even more copious amounts of coffee, and there you have about 10%-15% of Larsson’s book. It’s tedious.
As TGwtDT deals with rape and murder, it’s not unusual that there would be explicit scenes depicting this. (view spoiler)[ Lisbeth Salander is raped by her social worker two various times, one orally in his office and the second time anally in his home after he has tied her to his bed. (hide spoiler)] These scenes are written in a slightly horrific, yet detached manner. It’s not these scenes that I question; it’s the revenge scene that follows. (view spoiler)[ Lisbeth turns the tables on the social worker when she returns to his home, ‘promising’ another night of sex for pay, then tases him, ties him to his bed and rapes him. But the way the scene is written is done in an oddly titillating manner. Lisbeth stands at the foot of the bed, dressed all in black, wielding a whip, with her dyed-black hair, tattoos and piercings giving her a dark dominatrix look as the man struggles against his bonds and ball-gag. Lisbeth proceeds to rape him with an anal plug without the use of lubrication. She then tortures him by tattooing a message across his abdomen. Lisbeth finally ends his torture by showing the man a video that she recorded from the previous encounter when he had raped her. For an hour and a half she forces him to watch this!
Frightening stuff, one would think, but the way it’s written is done in such a kinky manner, that I—a long time reader of subtle kink—can spot it when I see it. (hide spoiler)] This scene is supposed to be critical to the novel as it shows the true nature of Lisbeth and the depths she is capable of. (view spoiler)[But to me, it reads as a writer’s fantasy of being dominated by a tough woman. It's more like, “Yes, I am a bad, bad, evil man. I am a filthy dirty man, and I must be punished. I understand you will stick painful things up my bum without lube. Oh, it hurts, oh it’s painful...but…now…I am in a quiet, almost hypnotized state of ecstasy at your masterful female dominance. Oh…yes I will do whatever you say. I will be your slave.” (hide spoiler)]
Many years ago I read Jane De Lynn’s Some Do where a similar scene is portrayed. (view spoiler)[After a friend is brutally raped and dies as a consequence, several women avenge that savagery by raping her attacker. However in Some Do, the scene was disturbing. The man is assaulted in his office, blindfolded and gagged, and there is not even a sniff of subtly or eroticism; it was pure female anger at masculine "oppression," replete with horror and a lust for vengeance. (hide spoiler)] Some Do was written by an American woman in the 1970s and TGwtDT was written by a Swedish man in the 2000s and there was just a vast difference in the way the parallel scenes were depicted. One was written with a raw anger beneath it, filled with a sentiment of “We’re not taking this anymore! We will fight back and hurt you worse if you hurt us!”
Larsson, it seems, wrote his book as an aggrieved male figure for all the violence committed against woman by men as a dark-revenge fantasy. (view spoiler)[The initial rapes of Lisbeth were crude, but didn’t disturb me. That sort of sexual violence is de riguer in murder-mystery books, sad to say. But it was Lisbeth’s scene where I had my “epiphany.” (hide spoiler)] As a person, I can’t judge Larsson, but as a reader judging an author, I certainly can. His character of Lisbeth is not a true woman: she is an amalgam of all that is cool and “ballsy” about women in media: a cartoon/manga/movie/porn version of what a “kick-ass woman” is. Ironic that in a book originally titled "Men Who Hate Women" Larsson used a female protagonist who is a caricaturized version of post-modern ideal femininity to conquer all the bad evil men. (Or perhaps Larsson WAS so smart he knew exactly what he was doing? Maybe. Even so, I didn’t care.)
Eh, if you’re going to market a mass-murder/rapist book as feminist theory, at least make it a teeny bit based in realism. And interesting.
And I apologize to Dan Brown for all the mean things I said about him. I won’t take them back, because they’re true! But in the literary sense, I should have kept it all in perspective. There’s being a hack who knows he’s a hack, and then there’s being a hack that’s pawned off as some literary genius. And then there’s the fact that he died relatively young, so like Kurt Cobain, no one can EVER complain about Larsson’s talent. Ok, that last part WAS cruel. But I won’t take that back, either.
Awful, awful and boring. ½ star ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** Breakfast at Tiffany's is actually Truman Capote's collection of one novella and three short stories. As such, the book should be ra...more**spoiler alert** Breakfast at Tiffany's is actually Truman Capote's collection of one novella and three short stories. As such, the book should be rated for all tales included, which were underwhelming. Over the years, I’ve lost my tolerance for pretentious writing, and despite Capote’s earthiness, never once did I shake that feeling of pretentiousness.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s A young writer looks back on the year or so when he lived near and loved a girl named Holly Golightly. Holly’s a beauty who runs around with wealthy men so they can take proper care of her.
The unnamed narrator whom Holly refers to as Fred (that’s her brother’s name, so Holly has clearly defined what kind of relationship they have, whatever his ambiguous sexuality may be) admits to loving Holly numerous times, but it's not so much an erotic love as one filled with worship. “Fred” thinks to himself: “As I read each glimpse I stole of Holly made my heart contract.” Holly bathes naked in front of him, calls him "Maude” (I suppose "Nellie" would have been rude?) and the narrator readily admits to having been in love with women, men and once an entire family. Here everyone’s sexuality is mellifluous; it’s all a matter of price.
On to the story. Really, there’s very little of it. Holly gets paid for her company, wears sunglasses indoors and speaks French to impress. The players include an array of millionaires, models, wealthy diplomats and mobsters. What a bunch of poser and phonies they all are. Oh, but Holly is a special type of phony, as one character says: “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.”
Holly Golightly is the forbear of today’s women of reality TV. She’s a goodtime girl who alludes to intimate favors for some cash, but doesn’t always give them out. Capote himself wrote that Holly was just “a modern-day Geisha.” Bleh, I prefer an honest "whore.”
I don’t care if Hollywood toned down the story and made it into a sappy romance; at least that movie was charming. Oh, yeah there’s a long of “rough” talk that could be viewed in the modern perspective as hateful and loathsome. I can imagine shocked readers of “The New Yorker” (where the novella was originally published) being titillated by the sexual and racial references. I personally do not view 50 year-old works through a modern lens so I didn’t give a crap. The vulgar flavor bored me. Overlook the vulgarity and there’s not much else there.
If only “Fred” had banged Holly, then this would totally sum up Breakfast at Tiffany’s point:
2.5 stars, but I'll be generous and add an extra half star for Cat who's the best character in the whole novella and deserved better than that phony's phony, Holly Golightly.
House of Flowers This was notable for its Haitian setting, but Capote really had an obsession with whores didn’t he? A beautiful prostitute in Port-Au-Prince named Ottilie ditches her lifestyle after she meets her “one true love,” a handsome country boy. Ottilie moves in with him and his mother, who watches them have sex at night and brings Ottilie little gifts like a severed cat’s head in a box. Ottilie pays her mother-in-law back by serving those gifts as meals until mom-in-law suddenly drops dead.
The ending is odd because you don’t know if the mother’s ghost gets her revenge or if everybody in this story is mentally deranged.
Either way, 2 stars.
A Diamond Guitar The most pointless tale in a book filled with pointless tales. An old man spending life in prison for murder laments the loss of his one true friend: a young, blond Cuban boy who was allowed to enter prison with diamond guitar. Mr. Schaeffer’s a decent enough sort--for a murderer—while the boy, Tico Feo, just uses his looks to get the old guy to do his bidding and fall for him. “Except that they did not combine their bodies or think to do so, though such things were not unknown at the farm, they were as lovers.”
Tico Feo convinces Mr. Schaeffer to try to escape. Tico Feo gets away, but the old man doesn't. He spends his remaining years caring for the guitar and feeling lots of pain and yearning. Oh, the pain...and the yearning...the yearning...
A Christmas Memory Just as plotless as all the other stories, but at least it’s the sweetest.
A seven-year-old boy bonds with his elderly cousin whom he refers to as his friend. Every Christmas, they make an elaborate fruit cake that they send to only special recipients, like the President or some missionaries, or a nice couple whose car once broke down near their home. Though they are very poor they work hard to make 30 exotic fruit cakes. They collect fallen pecans; kill flies for cash, barter with illegal alcohol vendors. Their time spent together is a magical one. Then the young boy is sent off to military school and the halcyon days come to an end.
3 stars just because it was so sweet.
***I found this compilation of short stories to be unimpressive. I understand modern literary writers are fond of character studies, not plot-driven tales, but if the characters are uninteresting then who cares? I didn't.
I’m making myself read more literature, modern and classic, but this short anthology did not make me gaga for Capote. I’m hoping “In Cold Blood” is a better reflection of his talent.