The first masterpiece of realist literature, according to translator Lydia Davis, and I don't disagree. From the introduction, I learned that the scruThe first masterpiece of realist literature, according to translator Lydia Davis, and I don't disagree. From the introduction, I learned that the scrupulously objective (with a few slight deviations) style Flaubert uses for Emma Bovary's story is not his natural style, that in fact he customarily went for a metaphor-rich, lyrical register, which makes his achievement here even more impressive.
And for all that, there are still beautiful passages; however, Flaubert never allows these passages to escape the omnipresent irony he uses--all such passages are undercut or at least counterpointed with some sobering bit of mundanity or glimpse of human mendacity and in this way he exerts control over the narrative, in spite of his refusal to moralize, which is the thing that landed him and his book in court on a charge of offense against public morality and religion. I love it when the artist has the last laugh....more
The title comes from Balzac's 1830 short story, "Une Passion dans le desert": "Dans le desert, voyez-vous, il y a tout, et il n'y a rien...c'est dieuThe title comes from Balzac's 1830 short story, "Une Passion dans le desert": "Dans le desert, voyez-vous, il y a tout, et il n'y a rien...c'est dieu sans les hommes," which, translated, is "In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing...It is God without men."
Kunzru accomplishes the feat of weaving southwestern Native American mythology into a story that also includes autism, UFO fever as experienced from the 1940s through the 1970s, stock-market-prediction models, and the making of methamphetamine. He does an especially good job capturing the double-nature of the trickster god, Coyote, who throughout most of the novel gleefully sows his brand of chaos and change into the world. Here he is usually malicious, even while displaying threads of--good is too simple and inaccurate a word, so let's say his schemes seem to nudge a fractured, sick world toward healing, whether intentionally or not. And the section on human nature, especially the sort that loves Internet anonymity, is merciless as it reveals that culture's semi-literate hatefulness. ...more
Bruni makes clever use of the events chronicled in issue 121 of The Amazing Spider-Man, especially the one that gives her book its title: the ambiguouBruni makes clever use of the events chronicled in issue 121 of The Amazing Spider-Man, especially the one that gives her book its title: the ambiguous death of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's first girlfriend, with its never-answered question of whether the Green Goblin or Parker's alter-ego, Spider-Man, was ultimately responsible for her death. Sheila Gower is a 17-year-old high school senior working in a gas station, of all places, in Coralville, Iowa, saving money to move to France after graduation; she has no real plan, though, and it's clear that what she really wants is a life anywhere else but Coralville, Iowa. The 28-year-old man whose identity will eventually be revealed as Seth Novak, but who is known to Sheila for much of the novel as Peter Parker, drives a taxi in Coralville and frequently stops in the gas stain for cigarettes and conversation. Among the things she learns about him is that his brother, Jake, died of an intentional pill overdose when Peter/Seth was seven or eight.
Except he didn't die, as we eventually learn; he recovered, left town, and moved to Chicago, leaving Seth to believe he'd died. Reality for Peter/Seth is a tricky thing, and what we watch as the novel unfolds is the convergence, through a series of coincidences and actions necessary to life on the lam with a teenage runaway (Sheila), whom the world believes Peter/Seth has kidnapped at gunpoint (though the truth is more complicated), of Seth/Peter's and Sheila/Gwen's resemblance to the comic book characters, and the resemblance of their story arc to that of issue 121.
Though Bruni doesn't definitively address the question of Peter/Seth's apparent pre-cognitive ability--Spider-Man's "spider-sense"--it doesn't substantially detract from the suspense of the main story-line, which is the meeting, after 20 years of Seth believing his brother dead (though this lack of knowledge might be a product of Seth's unusual relationship with reality), of Seth and his brother Jake....more
Pope puts the reader directly in his fictional world and, with only the occasional bit of explanatory dialogue, allows us to figure things out. And itPope puts the reader directly in his fictional world and, with only the occasional bit of explanatory dialogue, allows us to figure things out. And it is an odd world: a city, Arcopolis, bearing some resemblance to cities on Earth, with the notable exception of the monsters that have besieged it, appearing at night from subterranean lairs.
But wait, the city has a protector: Haggard West, with his jet pack and ray gun and aviator's helmet and secret lab within his mansion. Pope gives us just enough of West in action against the Ghoul Gang, a leading and highly organized faction within the general anarchy of the monsters (who, we eventually learn, have their own bars and underground analogs to everyday life, albeit no less devoted to the overthrow and destruction of the people topside for all these quotidian necessities), just enough so that we like West and are pulling for him, only to watch him obliterated by the ghouls. Boom, no more protector.
Switch to a strange realm floating in the deeps of space, where the young son of a legendary monster-slayer is on the precipice of his Turning Day, the day when he goes "a-rambling" in order to find out who he is and who he will become. With his marvelous cloak and kit (read, suitcase) of nifty, ultra-powerful, totemic T-shirts, our unnamed protagonist--his parents refer to him as "the boy"--arrives in Arcopolis, where a particularly large and nasty monster is snacking on cars and trucks in one of the main plazas.
A chaotic battle ensues, which Battling Boy wins, with long-range help from his dad--something he won't immediately admit to the grateful mayor and mayor's entourage but which eventually he'll have to. The tone shifts as the mayor and military try to figure out who BB is and where he came from and how best to present him to the populace--after "focused market research" they rename him Arco-Lad, to his chagrin, and hold a parade as his debut.
The ghouls attack the parade, wanting to end this new threat before he has a chance to grow. The orphaned daughter of Haggard West shows up, accoutered in his gear and armed with his weapons, and together they put the ghouls to flight. The book ends ominously, though, as Sadisto, the ghoul's leader, walks ever deeper underground for a debrief with what seems to be the leader of the monsters, an enthroned, shadowy demon who, scanning Sadisto's thoughts, see the image of BB and recognizes him, with surprise, as a "god boy."
I enjoyed the structure, three story lines that merge in a pleasing way toward the end. The first involves Monkey King, a god from out of Chinese mythI enjoyed the structure, three story lines that merge in a pleasing way toward the end. The first involves Monkey King, a god from out of Chinese mythology and star of the late-16th century fictional narrative, Journey to the West; the second concerns ABC teenager Jin Wang's efforts to find his place in American society and his fragile friendship with the FOB and new at school kid, Wei-Chen Sun; and the third, American teenager Danny and his cousin, an assemblage of outrageous stereotypes named Chin-Kee. No joke--this section is titled "Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee."
Yang expertly catches the humor of Monkey King's original transgression--crashing a dinner party in heaven--which is how MK comes to serve the monk, Wong Lai-Tao on his journey to the west. Story lines two and three merge late in the book when we're shown that Danny is Jin's idealized version of himself, with Chin-Kee as the incarnation of every racist idea about the Chinese that he has internalized from his years growing up in the U.S.
Later still, very near the end of the book, Lines three and one merge, with Chin-Kee revealed as Monkey King--ever a trickster--and Wei-Chen Sun one of his own sons, having teamed up to help Jin learn how to embrace everything, Chinese and American, that makes him unique.
Yang's art is wonderful; I especially like the clouds he uses to portray one of Monkey King's amazing powers, the Cloud-as-Steed, and the lightning effect Yang uses to illustrate moments when a character has an idea or an epiphany or has made a decision and is acting upon it....more
This graphic novel makes use of Book of Revelations and Ragnarok in its story of a world where, because super-villains have been utterly defeated, theThis graphic novel makes use of Book of Revelations and Ragnarok in its story of a world where, because super-villains have been utterly defeated, the children and even grand-children of superheroes have amorally taken to battling among themselves, almost to pass the time and for the sheer pleasure of using their amazing powers--a case of "when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." One primary concern could be summarized as, "In a world of titans, is there any place for ordinary humans?"
The framing device of this story serves as a constant brake on any hope of generating forward movement--profluence, in the lingo of literary analysis. This frame involves the entity known as the Spectre, who observes the story in the company of a human he has chosen, one who near the end is asked to pass judgment on either the side of the humans or the super humans, so that the Spectre can deliver punishment. These two periodically comment on the action as they observe it, and as we read it, which drags the story almost to a halt on several occasions. The Spectre's dialogue has always tended toward the sententious, which doesn't help: a little Spectre goes a long way. Writer Mark Waid does work in a couple of light-hearted interludes in a Planet Hollywood-like restaurant named Planet Krypton, but the overall tone, in nearly every panel, is one of high seriousness, all freighted with life-or-death importance. More variety in tone would have made this much more engaging.
Other quarrels and quibbles: The giant plow that Superman pulls near the end of the story, on page 201, is too obvious as a symbol. And, really, what crop could possibly be planted in such deep, wide furrows?
It doesn't seem credible that Lex Luthor would so readily ally himself with Bruce Wayne/Batman, to the point where he seems more gullible than brilliant Yes, Waid lays out a plausible explanation, a version of enemy-of-my-enemy, but I didn't find it persuasive, in part because so little time is spent on it. It's rushed, in the same way that I don't know anything about those misbehaving super-projeny who are causing so much trouble; they exist as ciphers, bad-guy stand-ins.
Wonder Woman's costume. I've always had trouble with it, even as a kid: why would this ambassador from the Amazons wear a costume so obviously patterned after the American flag? And as the original feminist, it makes even less sense for her to so closely link herself to a society born out of, and primarily for, white male privilege, regardless of the strides made since. This conceptual pill is here made more difficult to swallow by artist Alex Ross's choice of costume style: the loincloth. Really? Wonder Woman is going to actively court the male gaze like this? As with so many costumes for female superheroes, but least justifiable here, it seems chosen as a way to cater to comic books' traditional demographic, the adolescent male....more
Pay attention to the paperclips; this is my first suggestion for the reader of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Two story-lines run thPay attention to the paperclips; this is my first suggestion for the reader of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Two story-lines run through this novel in alternating chapters, both narrated in the first person by the same anonymous character. This sort of anonymity often indicates a novel that is concerned with matters of identity, among other matters, and that holds here.
The first story-line takes place in a world almost exactly like ours, though with the addition of a shadowy struggle over data between two factions, the Semiotecs and the Calcutecs. The narrator is of the latter camp, a group of people trained to "shuffle" data in their brains--basically, they are human encryption programs, with their unconscious mind as the ultimate black box and a coding script unique to them. The narrator's script is called the End of the World. He's given a set of data to shuffle; unfortunately for him, he is the only surviving Calcute,c and the work that helped make him a Calcutec is about to switch his mind over from its real-world ontology to its script-ontology.
There are diagrams in the book that help explain this. In essence, though, the ticking clock of the novel is this countdown until his mind makes that switch and his participation in what we know as the real world of experience is over; he would at that point appear to other characters as a brain-dead vegetable.
Cue the second story-line, which is the narrator's End of the World script. It takes place in an eerie, walled town where people have titles such as Gatekeeper, Librarian, Dreamreader, and Caretaker, where newcomers are separated from their shadows at the town entrance, and from which no on leaves. It has a fairy-tale quality, in the classic sense of a story that operates independent of time, one shadowed by a sense of unease.
This makes the structure of the novel a treat: at what point do the stories overlap, or does the second begin rights as the first ends? What is certain is that there are subtle clues to the relationship between the two story-lines, slender bridges between the real world and the script locked deep in his unconscious. This brings me back to the paperclips, which seem to function almost as Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs, and offer the narrator the possibility that he might one day find his way out of his script, i.e., his unconscious mind, and back to the real world. Here's how those paperclips enter the story the first time, in a chapter from the End of the World story-line:
"The counter is scattered with paperclips. I pick up a handful, then take a seat at the table."
Nothing more is made of this odd gesture; the narrative continues on its merry way. But, much farther along, paperclips show up in the other story-line, similarly underplayed. It's a wonderful touch, implying so much with so little. There is also a moment in the very first chapter where the narrator tries to catch what his soft-spoken (the reason for which takes the novel into science fiction, though of the near-future, sociological variety) guide has said; it sounded like "Proust," but he can't be sure. At that point, I thought, "madeleine," and the notion of a richly detailed past unlocked by the taste of a single cookie, which has obvious similarities to Murakami's story here. ...more
Now that I've read this book, I share Lethem's amazement that James Wood reviewed it without mentioning the magic ring. Though the ring vanishes for lNow that I've read this book, I share Lethem's amazement that James Wood reviewed it without mentioning the magic ring. Though the ring vanishes for long stretches of time, it is pivotal at several junctures, especially during the final scene between protagonist Dylan Ebdus, whose story of growing up white in non-white Brooklyn during the '70s this is, and his best friend, Mingus Rude, son of a famous soul singer, tagger, and, eventually, claimed by crack and consigned to the prison system. This intentional oversight caused a minor dust-up between the two back in the early Noughties.
Lethem writes a great sentence, that much seems clear to me. Some of the Goodreads comments excoriating him--one even classes him with Updike, who, whatever his faults via-a-visit his female characters, had one of the great styles of the 20th-century, as an example of genuinely awful writing--leave me puzzled. When Dylan's archenemy, Robert Woolfolk, intimidates him into a "loan" of his bicycle, Dylan sees a neighbor, a grown-up, down the street. Possibly a savior? Lethem writes it like this:
Old Ramirez stood in front of his store and sipped a Manhattan Special and squinted at them from under his fisherman's hat. He was beyond appeal, watching them like television.
Such perfect use of simile here: not only can Dylan expect no help from neighbors whom he can clearly see, his impending humiliation will also function as entertainment, a channel endlessly diverting. Even if a reader is turned off by the switches between omniscience and first-person point of view, the shuffling among tenses, and the backward and forwards skips in time, it's a tall order to levy a charge of poor writing against someone who continually in this novel demonstrates an ear and eye for fresh language. ...more
The light, agile tone of Forster's narration is breathtaking, but don't mistake lightness of tone for slightness of purpose: Howard's End has emotionaThe light, agile tone of Forster's narration is breathtaking, but don't mistake lightness of tone for slightness of purpose: Howard's End has emotional and moral heft in spades. The Schlegels and the Wilcoxes represent two aspects of England, and one theme of the novel concerns the difficulty these polar opposite approaches to life have connecting with one another, with those approaches here represented best by Margaret Schlegel and Henry Wilcox. Forster's narrator does an admirable job remaining neutral, for the most part, though I thought I detected the occasional preference for the Schlegel sisters' life immersed in art and intellectual curiosity as opposed to the Wilcoxes business-only existence.
The voice, the writing, is beautiful, full of wit, humor, and both cognitive and lyrical music. At one point, the Schlegel sisters are at a concert, listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and Forster's description of the music--given to the younger Schlegel sister, Helen--is both startling and original:
"'No; look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back,' breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After an interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time. Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events, she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness! The goblins were right."
This is remarkable writing, those quietly walking goblins. Forster overlays Beethoven's music with Helen's description of it, with these pessimistic goblins, and the effect is to cut straight to the heart of life: we want to love the world, to find it replete with romance, and the goblins are there to say, "No, there is no romance. There is only life and then death." More brilliantly still, these goblins become a recurring chorus throughout the novel, a comment on Margaret's efforts to connect with the worldview of the Wilcoxes.
Gene and Finny, that tree, that marble staircase. I enjoyed this much more than I did when I had to read this--when did I read this?--late junior highGene and Finny, that tree, that marble staircase. I enjoyed this much more than I did when I had to read this--when did I read this?--late junior high? Early high school? I'm sure back then I had no idea what the book was about or why Gene bounced that branch and sent Finny to a broken leg or why Finny seemed so different from the other boys at the school, so whimsically knowing in his outlook on life, especially with regard to the boys' preparation for entry into World War Two. Much better this time around....more
One of my daughter's middle-grade summer reading selections. She's in England now, for another week, and will read this when she returns. I wonder whaOne of my daughter's middle-grade summer reading selections. She's in England now, for another week, and will read this when she returns. I wonder what she'll think of it, and what questions she'll have, and how I'll answer them. Yes, I could say, at the midpoint of the 20th century, an allegedly civilized nation went about the extermination of millions of people with scientific rigor and detachment. Much of the allegedly civilized world was complicit in this by its silence, by its refusal to accept refugees, by its disbelief. But after I say this, how to address the crucial why questions?
Even before the memoir begins, in the preface she'll encounter Wiesel's mention of his younger sister, "a well-behaved little Jewish girl with golden hair and a sad smile, murdered with her mother the very night of their arrival." The memoir proceeds quickly to a lucky survivor who tries to warn the people of Wiesel's town of what was coming, describing the trenches they dug, after which they were made to approach said trench singly to be shot and fall into their handiwork, that "Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns." There will be a description of the cattle car, of how many went in and how few came out. Of watching a 13-year-old boy hanged in the central plaza of Auschwitz: too light to immediately die, "he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished."
Well, it's been said before: Holocaust, Devouring, by whichever name it's called, the shiny, smooth evil of it defeats understanding....more