a solid memoir with some heavy and powerful themes, of loss, redemption, and finding a path in life through which you can happily walk. i will say i w...morea solid memoir with some heavy and powerful themes, of loss, redemption, and finding a path in life through which you can happily walk. i will say i was happy as a reader not to have the typical one-upsmanship of rock memoirs; however, the gastrointestinal garrulousness was unnerving to this reader. My only major complaint (and the reason for 3 stars, although 3.5 is closer to how i feel about this book) is the tone. i struggled to find a unique authorial tone, rather it felt as if written in a universal tone of objectively writing about your subjective experience. there is a line in the book about trying to find a vocal style and how, the singer tried to blend hundreds of others vocal styles to create his own. and his self-perceived vocal weakness is the main issue with the book. that said, it takes a lot of time energy, reading, writing and re-writing just to sound professional. yet the technical proficiency shows a lack of authorial style (i.e. nabokov, borges, dfw, etc). and while it's kinda unfair to compare with the greatest 20th cent. writers, i feel like the emotional perspicacity, and humanity, and willingness to dive in the murky pool of the past and wrestle with embarrassing, needy, and foreign versions of yourself, is the correct foundation upon which can be built, the house of style. and when this author arrives there, we may have a literary mansion: the cement's been poured.(less)
So after coming up with a cute little mnemonic to remember who was the brother and who the sister (Franny=female), I began to unravel the emotional ba...moreSo after coming up with a cute little mnemonic to remember who was the brother and who the sister (Franny=female), I began to unravel the emotional ball of yarn that is the aptly named Glass family. Before we begin a point of order, “Franny and Zooey” is greatly bolstered by having already read “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, the first story in the collection “Nine Stories” (about as creatively titled as Elliott Smith's no name song titles). This earlier story creates the starting point from which Franny and Zooey ventures forth; creates the Other against which both siblings repel or approach. Seymour and his decisions about how to handle their upbringing inform and illuminate the paths that Franny and Zooey both take. So I would recommend reading “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” first. But if you don’t, “Franny and Zooey” is a nice little (assymetrical) book all on its own.
“Franny and Zooey” is a rare treasure that has been degraded by decades of other authors attempting to recreate the taut tensions that guide the behaviors of the Glass family: Authors as diverse as Richard Yates and Katherine Dunn have used disturbed family dynamics and sibling precocity as vehicles that drive home the theme of human competition and confusion. But Salinger mined this literary vein first. And the result is literary brilliance. Yet as bright as the literary aspects of the novel shine, the aspects of plot are dull and must be looked past as Salinger creates memorable characters who seem to not do much but talk, much like the Faubourg Saint-Germain in Proust’s novel series. And “Franny and Zooey” has all of the tightly controlled, minutae-filled pace, of Parisian high-society parties that Proust so magically (and at times, let’s be honest, soporifically) materializes. But, instead of bantering over the petty details of class and genealogy, Franny and Zooey discuss ego, and The Jesus Prayer. And besides these overly-intelligent children we have Bessie Glass who, being the matriarch that she is, makes a captious and matronly appearance as about the most annoying mother put to paper (although Mrs.Portnoy could give her a run for her money). Yet she fills a structural purpose as well, nagging Zooey to speak with Franny about her decision to retreat home and embrace Hesychasm. And it is through this that Franny and Zooey finally merge and engage in a stichomythic dialogue about ego and how no action is egoless (even the action of trying to be egoless). And like all great fiction, the work takes what could easily be a 200 page philosophy thesis and distills it into a consumable 50 pages of entertaining sibling dialogue.
Sidebar: the novella titled “Zooey” is narrated by Buddy Glass the second oldest brother. This neat authorial trick sets up all sorts of interesting narrative queries; such as when Zooey soaks in a bath, reading a four-year old letter written by Buddy to Zooey. So Zooey must have related to Buddy his experience of reading a letter from Buddy to himself, and this experience is then narrated by Buddy to the reader; also, Buddy imparts fully formed dialogue to the reader from a conversation he never heard (Franny and Zooey’s long conversation at the end of “Zooey”). These little narrative thoughts help give texture to what feels like a straight forward third person narration. (sidebar over)
The book begins with the short story “Franny”, which finds Franny Glass at that tender moment in post adolescence when harsh and sometimes harmful epiphanies come hard and fast: a)parents are fallible and may have done things that hurt you; b) at best, god most likely is an extreme oversimplification and, at worst, non-existent; c)work sucks and bills have to be paid, usually by doing something you don’t particularly enjoy, and may even loathe; and d) maybe worst of all: you are NOT original, every seeming transcendent thought you have is a sad rehash of some great thinker who has already died (his genius not keeping him from the one thing you are finally starting to get brief and haunting glimpses of: death.) And for Franny all of this anguish comes to a breaking point while having lunch with her boyfriend Lane Coutell. Her surface complaints seem familiar to any reader of Salinger, a lack of genuineness in her peers, fake poets, and pedants who pretend to be artists while really being conformists just trying to impress. But Franny arrives at a solution, drastic as it seems, to follow the example of a Russian peasant in “The Way of a Pilgrim”, and repeatedly state the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”) with the goal of seeing/knowing God. This idea is a perfect example of youthful naiveté as the only way Franny can achieve this constant recital is if someone financially supports her – and we all know where young adults turn when they need free money: mom and dad. So Franny retreats home, infantilizing herself in the process. And this is where we leave Franny and take up Zooey.
The beginning of “Zooey” is a virtuoso performance of character, restraint, and pacing. But for the reader this type of complete control and pacing can feel like authorial indulgence which is a euphemistic way of saying it can be boring. But on post-read contemplation the strong points really stand out: the levels of narrations, the genetic and familial differences and similarities: i.e. Zooey’s neurosis is a distorted reflection of his mother’s (just the banter over the bathtub and cleanliness could spawn some impressive Freudian term papers). Salinger also has some unique moments such as Zooey flirting with letting Buddy’s 4 year-old letter become soaked in water; subtly balancing the letter on his knees and seeing how close it can get to the water, until he bobbles the letter and nearly loses it to its watery fate. Again a fascinating example of calamity and control: we court disaster as long as we feel we are in control, and as soon as chance nearly creates this disaster for us we decide disaster is not so alluring after all (e.g. the gloriously moral and intentional convolution of a man about to commit suicide who is then threatened to be killed by a third party, and how this suicidal man reacts to said threat; this being a plot point of a few police procedurals). Now a soaked letter is not nearly as severe as death or bodily harm, but it shows us Zooey’s head space, his proclivity toward controlled disaster born from congenital neurosis and environmental stresses.
Of course this raises a larger question of why Zooey is reading a four-year old letter; as fictional exposition and narrative (Buddy’s) concern it makes complete sense. But from the aspect of Zooey’s intentions it seems a bit strange. Is he procrastinating reading a play he’s supposed to perform in because he thinks the quality of the play is beneath him? Or is he reading Buddy’s letter to try and find clues or advice on how to handle his sister’s breakdown? And again this is where Seymour Glass comes in, as in the letter Buddy discusses some of the events surrounding Seymour and his option for dealing with these genes and these parents and the consciousness’s they’ve crafted. And this humble reader thinks that Zooey is most likely locating sibling advice and experience, as all the siblings flee from their common problem, some in more extreme ways than others. And Zooey wants to find a way to lessen the severity of Franny’s solution to her authenticity crisis. He searches Buddy’s letter of 4 years ago (when Zooey was around 21, much nearer to Franny’s 20), to activate memories of Zooey’s own crises and the ways he resolved them (although his problems are clearly still lingering). But then his mother barges in, a literal embodiment of obstacle, and one of the largest ones for young adults: your mother.
It’s not that mothers purposely stand in the way, or that children purposely repel their mother’s love and advice, it’s that the biological goals of mother and child are set opposite to each other. The mother is desperate to maintain the love and matriarchal control (read protection, if you are a mother), and the child is yearning for independence and personal identity apart from being a progeny. And Bessie Glass is desirous of a past when her children were “sweet and loving”, not realizing that her persistent push to continue parenting into her children’s young adulthood is causing the rapidity with which her children are attempting to flee (mentally, physically and otherwise). But to any mothers out there, I can hardly blame you for this predicament: the will to parent is a biological imperative sui generis. Mothering is the strongest force in the animal kingdom, so expecting a mother to relinquish her unconditional drive for protecting and guiding her offspring is rather foolish. Yet these Glass children don’t seem to have hit upon this introspection: there epiphanies run personal, not interpersonal. And so they treat their mother as an annoyance to be tolerated, and it’s only when Zooey finally leaves the bathtub (probably the longest bath scene in literature; Zooey’s time in the bath could rival Jean-Paul Marat), and begins his extended dialogue with Franny that true communication begins to take place. And their conversation is a masterful display of sibling interaction: anger, relatability, shared experience, condescension and love all taking turns dominating the tone of the conversation. And Zooey being an older sibling cares not a whit for his younger sister’s feelings, and refuses to compromise concision for empathy. He tells the truth, but doesn’t tell it slant. He berates and belittles his little sister in a way only an older sibling can. And Franny seems to get nothing from this interchange. It is only later when Zooey pretends to be Buddy and talks with Franny on the telephone (a common and important symbol in Salinger’s fiction, again see “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”) that true wisdom is gleaned, or rather mutually achieved. Franny realizes Zooey’s telephone trick and rather than hang up and take it as further proof of her brother’s callousness to her own plight, she stays on the line. And it is here that Salinger’s true gifts as an author emerge. All of the phoniness, and adolescent snarl are parted and we the reader get a glimpse of some of the larger truths that inform not only Salinger’s life, but our own.
I am reluctant to speak on the specifics as the writing itself is wonderful and the words and metaphors Salinger uses should really be consumed without foreknowledge. But I will discuss the larger purpose of the story, which both Franny and Zooey arrive at in relation to their own lives. And that is: do things well even if they are small and unseen. This larger mantra forces a hurting mind away from the cliff edge of “what does it matter anyway” that seems to be the path most wandered by post-adolescent minds. And this theme has a curious biographical connection as Salinger stopped publishing but, according to a few sources, still wrote. Thus, a pithier encapsulation of Salinger’s larger theme is: do things well for the sake of themselves. And to my heathen ears, this is better than any Jesus Prayer, and is the exact anodyne for Franny’s fragile state, the very reason for her peace, and Salinger’s own. (less)
this is a book i did not like very much, i thought it was poorly structured, with bizarre (read incongruent, not interesting) characters and a neat bo...morethis is a book i did not like very much, i thought it was poorly structured, with bizarre (read incongruent, not interesting) characters and a neat bow-tie ending. but worst of all was the meandering quality of the novel: where are we going and what's the point. i think geek love is a superior treatment of similar themes, and ideas, and the writing was vastly superior. i think russell could really work on her prose as the whole novel felt like a writing school project and not a fleshed out purposeful novel. alas, it got some big attention and i'm not wholly sure why. anyone?(less)
The Letter Killer’s Club is a collection of interconnected stories, with a powerful frame-tale, that ends up challenging and usurping the wondrous wor...moreThe Letter Killer’s Club is a collection of interconnected stories, with a powerful frame-tale, that ends up challenging and usurping the wondrous works created in the freestyle storytelling of the titular group. The group explores roles and role-playing in many of their stories. In the first story Richard Burbage plays the role of Stern (who in turn, along with Guilden, represents the twinning of Guildenstern), this is further complicated with the Role itself being a character. Or, more specifically, an actors version of a role (this is where Burbage comes in). We see this again in the second story, which is a traditional idea of sacred and profane coexisting (or really being two ends of the same spectrum) with neutral actors taking on different roles of sacred (the priest), and profane (the jester). He achieves this by a simple change of clothing. Yet this story is the second version of the story Father Paulin, who attempts to marry Françoise and Pierre during the Feast of the Ass. Of course here we have a sacred ceremony being attempted in the middle of a debauched festival. And the two sides of the spectrum are achieved through custom and tradition and not raiment. And yet the details here are insignificant, as Sigizmund’s stories are what one of the storytellers refers to as “people-themes” as opposed to “people-plots”. And what ties these masterful stories together is thematic, and not plot-driven. Even the characters themselves are hardly important, and this is shown, by character names being reversed in different version of the two stories of the priest (Father Paulin marries Pierre and Francoise, then Father Francois attempts to marry Pierre and Pauline. Another cool touch is the father wandering into a later story by a different storyteller). Also the storytellers themselves are given nonsense names such as: Das, Tyd, Zez, etc.
But if character and plot are subjugated to the importance of the theme, what is the theme? Largely the theme is philosophical and linguistic. How do words hold power: through thought? through speech? through composition? And is speech itself a form of corruption, an act of destruction? And are pure ideas misshapen in order to fit into our pre-shaped words? Or as Sigizmund puts it: “Can one speak about silence without destroying it?” Of course you can read 500 page books on the questions asked here, but Sigizmund tends to limit the query to ideas surrounding stories, and how the telling of stories in many ways limits and defines the truth of the true objective truth of the story. In telling a story we sacrifice accuracy and truth, at the altar of communication and theme.
And Sigizmund’s real question here is whether this sacrifice is a worthy one. Should writers create these worlds for themselves and thus retain full accuracy and, more importantly, control; or should writers share their works with the world. The book itself starts out with a beautiful metaphor of a drowning man leaving a trail of bubbles rising to the surface; and just like this drowning man, Sigizmund was relegated to the dark watery depths of Soviet ignorance and intransigence. Or even worse, Sigizmund was stuck on the shores of the Styx, begging Charon for a ride across to the other side, begging for a resolution, which he has only received posthumously. And thus now, Sigizmund is this drowned man, whose bubbles are fragile, meaningful creations carrying ideas inside - like oxygen - forcing them to the surface of the literary world. So for all you readers suffocated by re-tread, copy-cat fiction. Pick up Sigizmund’s work, pop his bubbles, and breathe. (less)
browsing through a fellow readers reviews i noticed i had not marked lolita as read on my books. this being a travesty as i've read it three times (th...morebrowsing through a fellow readers reviews i noticed i had not marked lolita as read on my books. this being a travesty as i've read it three times (the paperback, the annotated (my favorite version by far), and the library of america (with pnin, and pale fire; quite the run of novels for our nabokov)). anyway without going overboard here, i must state that this novel is a phenomenl work and one of the most complex works of art ever created (that was me not going overboard); and i realize most people will not like it; not only is it complex, but has a love story between a grown ass man and a 13 yr. old girl (not cool humbert), but really, book jacket blurb be damned, the book is NOT a love story, humbert doesn't even love lolita (or maybe he resides at some dark and seedy outer edge of the definition of that word), and even if he did, the book is more of a literary mystery, a reader's detective story. this i did not pick up on a first read and only really arrived at because the annotations repeatedly showed me that this was the case. but hey, thats what annotations are for. anyway, if you love complex works of art (the odyssey, shostakovich's fifth symphony), please, please ignore the surface level paedophilia (i know just writing that phrase makes me cringe) and read this book. and if you recoil and don't like it, i understand; and you are not alone. of course if you love it and post online your affection for a novel whose protagonist is immoral, fear not, neither are you alone!(less)
well, well, well, i finished volume 2 of 7 and i must say, i fully recognize what is great about proust, and yet personally i don't get excited to rea...morewell, well, well, i finished volume 2 of 7 and i must say, i fully recognize what is great about proust, and yet personally i don't get excited to read his stuff, i feel that same confliction you get before working out, or eating a salad, where the process is not where the goodies are, but rather the reflection of the experience paints the masterpiece. but just like i'm gonna keep eating salads (although the workouts are harder for me, like george eliot or something), i will continue on with proust and relish in the recollection, in the subtlety, in the small details and structures that slowly build and self-reference, a wonderful symphony, that at times can lead you to a yawn, until a virtuosic passage reinstills your faith, and walking out of the concert hall you think: i'd like to do that again.(less)
a sort of coming-of-age, creative non-fiction exersize, that should be of interest to anyone with a love of poerty. as levine and friends say in an ea...morea sort of coming-of-age, creative non-fiction exersize, that should be of interest to anyone with a love of poerty. as levine and friends say in an early essay; this is serious business. but not without great enjoyment and what i enjoyed the most was the absolute love of poetry that shone through levine's solid and seamless prose. he takes us to the waning years of franco's spain where he meets a fellow lover of poetry who was raised in different experiences with different canonical (and spanish) poets. we find ourselves transported to post ww2 detroit and the manual labor that built americas economy while destroying millions of personal aspirations. we sit through two master classes of poetry taught by two titans of 20th centery poetry: john berryman and yvor winters. and into these fantastic sets, levine peppers his essays with wondrous poetry from antonio machado to elizabeth daryush (whose syllabic verse poem he quotes is sublime), he also shows how these poems shape the poet - and more importantly - the man he has become.
the last essay is about precocity and the role it plays in poetry. something i'm sure we have all experienced; no matter how much you read, or how perspecacious you feel, there is always someone smarter, younger, and more well-read. in his case it is a young woman whom he knew decades ago, whom is a sorta wallace stevens reincarnate (with a gorgeous poem of hers that he quotes, and from which the title is taken). i don't know if this person is real, or rather an amalgam of different younger poets whose precocity levine did not share (one of the trickier aspect of creative nf), but i left the essay, desiring to know the fate of this woman. but beside a few biographical details, the reader - along with levine - is left in the dark about what became of such young poetical wizardry. and this all reminded me of something my high school english teacher told me (you know this one, the one that shows you the phenomenal and life changing nature of literature, whom you never forget, and who in larger ways than she knows, shaped the person you became): she told me that the smartest literature student she ever had, worked at a grocery store 5 years after high school and was lonely and unhappy. she told me i didn't want to be like that person and that precocity comes with a price, and that worst of all, the most precocious people rarely become the best writers, because things always come to easy for them, and they never learn discipline and hard work. and levine's essay brilliantly and entertainingly conatins this lesson, fulfilling the ultimate goal of creative non-fiction. bravo!(less)
so i have finished volume 1 of this life-made-words modernist experiment, and i have to say that the novel itself garners only 3 stars, but the ambiti...moreso i have finished volume 1 of this life-made-words modernist experiment, and i have to say that the novel itself garners only 3 stars, but the ambition, prose beauty (only in parts, although i listened to the moncrieff version augmented by the lydia davis one for key sections), and the fact that this dude sat in a cork-lined room and tried to recreate his youth (and kinda succeeded) makes me give him an extra star. but this novel is quite the effort, for a good 50-80 pgs. we get to hear about a little boy wanting a goodnight kiss from his mother. now i would say spoiler alert but, i'm not really spoiling anything, there is no build-up suspense, or violated expectations, just a sensitive little boy worried that his mother won't kiss him good night because company is over. of course the scene with the madeleine is fantastic but i have been overexposed to it through the many mentions of it in other literary works that the few pages it occupied was a lonely bright spot (e.g. when you go to see a band you love and they play all new songs and then in the middle they play the one song that you know and your heart lifts and you sing along and are like, now here we go, but then the song ends and they go into a 10 minute instrumental and your heart sinks right back down).
so the novel definitly picks up in the second half when we get the story of swann and odette, and hear i won't give much away. odette is a fabulous character and seems the as if she is descended form the line of madame bovary (minus the suicidal ideation), but her depths of character and conflicted motivations, and kindnesses mixed with utter selfishness, really brings her to life, we feel for, and loathe, her at the same time. the same can't be said for swann who comes across as a wooden pole - in tone, in action, and personal prerogatives - he lives at the whim of odette, and its sad pathetic (and overdrawn).
now the greatest thing this novel has going for it is structure. it is a large scale symphonic work. but to get that strucure you needs a lot of words, and at times it can be daunting and overwhelming. all and still i've moved on to book two and will probably finish all 7, but with many breaks in between.(less)