I learned about this book when I had to write copy for the Spanish-language edition for work. It seemed sexy and intriguing, and as I'm on yet another...moreI learned about this book when I had to write copy for the Spanish-language edition for work. It seemed sexy and intriguing, and as I'm on yet another break from The Sound and the Fury, I thought I'd pick it up from the library.
The novel--or novella, perhaps, because it's only 138 pages--is about Gillian, a 1970s college student who falls desperately in love with Andre Harrow, one of her professors, as well as with Harrow's wife Dorcas, a sculptor of primitive and scandalous "totems"--statues of various and occasionally grotesque human forms.
In many ways, Beasts reminded me of watching Black Swan. It goes down easy--I finished it in a day--and seems awfully meaningful while you're experiencing it, but in the end is perhaps little more than titillation and tawdriness masquerading as depth. If that sounds unnecessarily harsh, I certainly don't mean it as an insult. Black Sawn gave itself more credit than it deserved for making some kind of a significant statement (about repressed desires, or the masochism that accompanies the pursuit of perfection, or something), when in fact it's appeal rested in its two principle narrative elements: sex and madness. My favorite review of that movie (courtesy of Dan Kois on Slate) was a single sentence: "It's a fucking piece of trash, and I totally loved it."
Now, I don't know that I'd say that Beasts is a piece of trash, necessarily, but there is certainly the distinct whiff of trashiness about it. For all that it alludes to D.H. Lawrence's poems and Ovid's Metamorphosis, it's really about one girl's juvenile infatuation and the lurid sexual tastes which some people indulge behind closed doors. It feels like it wants to make some kind of a grand statement about our animal instincts or the extent to which we're willing to forfeit our human dignity in the name of hedonistic pleasure in the here and now, but really it's just about sex.
And you know what? That's okay. There are certainly less interesting things to read about (just wait for my review of The Sound and the Fury). This was my first experience with Oates' work, so I don't know if some of her other books are more literary or whether she's always this...accessible (I don't know what it says about me that I equate "literary" with being inaccessible), but my interest is certainly piqued.
3.5 stars (rounded up to 4, since GoodReads won't let me do half-stars).
Plot rundown: 13 year old Johnny Merrimon is dealing with an absent dad, a mom whose life is spiraling downward, and the unsolved mystery of his twin...morePlot rundown: 13 year old Johnny Merrimon is dealing with an absent dad, a mom whose life is spiraling downward, and the unsolved mystery of his twin sister's disappearance a year before. Det. Clyde Hunt keeps an eye on Johnny while coming to terms with his own guilt at not having solved the case.
Verdict: A tidy and well-paced mystery/suspense novel. It's something of a victim of the "Mercutio Syndrome," though--I was frankly pretty tired of the two main characters fairly early on and much more interested in some of the secondary characters, such as John Yoakum, Hunt's partner. Maybe that's because it's never quite explained why it is that Hunt feels such a strong affinity for Johnny and his mom, or why being unable to solve the mystery of Alyssa Merrimon's disappearance bothers him so much. As for Johnny, his dogged pursuit of answers as to his sister's whereabouts starts to wear pretty thin by the middle of the book. Then again, maybe that's just my own personal bias: I was never a big fan of the plucky child protagonist. Still, you could do worse than The Last Child if you're in the market for a mystery novel.(less)
This was an old college roommate's favorite book ever, so I finally decided to give it a shot.
50 pages in.
It's not that it wasn't amusing, but...moreThis was an old college roommate's favorite book ever, so I finally decided to give it a shot.
50 pages in.
It's not that it wasn't amusing, but there was such a smug satisfaction congealing on every page that I could almost see Joseph Heller patting himself on the back for every cleverly written exchange. Awful; just awful. But hey, at least I read enough to understand the story behind the phrase "Catch-22." Not a total loss.(less)