Julianne's Reviews > The American Dream and Zoo Story

The American Dream and Zoo Story by Edward Albee
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's review
May 15, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: drama

Glancing at all the previous goodreads reviews for this book, I see that most people prefer The Zoo Story to The American Dream. And that, my friends, is why I am special: I jump the other way.

Although, to be absolutely honest, I'm not a huge fan of either one. I think Albee might be a tad violent for my taste--not violent in the sense that his plays contain violence (which these do), but violent in the sense that my overwhelming impression of these plays is one of violence. After reading them, I feel like a Steinway played extra hard.

But as to why I prefer The American Dream to The Zoo Story, it seems to have more to say. Perhaps I'm missing the point of Zoo Story, but I didn't find it particularly disturbing. In fact, I'd say the most disturbing thing about it was Peter's completely unrealistic degree of tolerance for Jerry, an obviously unhinged stranger, and this was not so much disturbing to me as distracting. It felt so artificial I could never forget that I was reading a play: instead of contemplating Jerry and Peter, I contemplated how hard it would be to play Jerry and Peter. Ah well.

In contrast, The American Dream is a puzzle, an absurdist Rubik's cube. Each line adds another riddle to unravel, and the cumulative effect is one of screwball inscrutability. (That, and violence, as aforesaid.) Who are Mommy and Daddy? Why is Grandma living with them? Did Mommy call the van man? What's in the beautifully wrapped boxes? Who is Mrs. Barker? Why does she remove her dress? How did Grandma hide her room? Etc. Whichever reviewer labelled it a "comic nightmare" provided an apt description, for like a real dream, The American Dream is a bundle of nonsense that yet makes some sense, though it defies rational explication.

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