Evan's Reviews > Reflections in a Golden Eye

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
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Apr 25, 13

bookshelves: gay-interest, sexuality, yearning, __in-my-collection
Read from June 20, 2012 to April 24, 2013

I'm not sure that there's anything in this book as bizarre as how I read it; getting about 95 percent in as of late 2011 then stopping, taking it with me on visits to the doctor through 2012 and reading a couple of the final ten pages each time I sat in the waiting room over the last year and a half. Invariably the doc would have the History Channel going on the overhead TV and there'd be something related to Hitler and Stalin and the Battle of Kursk or something and I'd have to put the book down and watch that.

I can thank the four infections raging in my body at the moment for giving me the time to finish it today while waiting on the physician... I had my ears irrigated, by the way, which is kind of fun; probably the closest I've come to a good swim in a long time. But I digress...

So, to pen any kind of decent review, can I even remember very much about this Southern gothic chamber piece featuring three mainly sexually repressed adults, one nympho, a flaming Filipino houseboy and a cipherous army private interloper who unwittingly brings this hormonal pot to a boil? Not really. So you won't be getting much from me. Plus, Amazon is going to steal the review anyway, so why bother?

Sometimes when reading Southern gothic novels of the '30s through the '60s (this one, a textbook example of its type, is from 1941) I think about the Hollywood method actors of the '50s and '60s tackling the characters from these Capote/Williams/McCullers works, strutting and sweating and glumly moping around in torn T-shirts wreaking violent havoc and causing the sex to ooze through the girdle of the belles down on the ole Plantation. Standing more than half a century back from the Southern gothic novel and '50s method acting--both once hip, new and revolutionary--one can't deny a sense of feeling it all a little quaint now, and maybe unintentionally self parodic: All that repression and weirdness and flailing about and self-imploding sexual angst by human pressure cookers bursting blood vessels in the process of going insane.

Reflections in a Golden Eye is a miniature, a fragile curate's egg wrought with fine precision, if not always with depth, and that might be because--for all McCuller's mad skills and considerable powers of suggestion--1941 was a difficult time for even the most gifted authors to mine the depths of sexual repression, particularly of the homosexual kind. By the time they could, sexual repression had pretty much been thrown into the dustbin of history.

The setting is a lazy Southern Army base right before World War II where two couples--two officers and their wives--loll about in their respectable, modest, well-appointed homes living lives of complete falsity. Capt. Penderton harbors a repressive cruel streak borne of his taboo love for men, which manifests itself in anal- retentive orderliness and cruelty toward horses and kittens. His insatiable wife, Leonora, with the most half-hearted attempt at secrecy satiates herself as best she can with wild rides on Penderton's beloved stallion and in company of Penderton's fellow officer, Lt. Col. Langdon, a dullard who nonetheless at least seems interested in women.

His wife, Alison, is so fearful of sex that she cuts off her own breasts. And that's just one of her mental issues. She's most comfortable being the fag hag of her asexual, flamboyant Filipino houseboy, Anacleto, who is taken to flights of theatrical fancy and whose story about the reflection in the golden eye of a peacock gives this book its title.

As with a good many Southern gothics, this one wouldn't be complete without the entrance of the interloper, Private Williams, an aimless mouth breather upon which McCullers hangs all sorts of gravitas to drive the plot and emotions. Pvt. Williams is like the young Terence Stamp in some Pasolini film of the '60s, the distant enigmatic object of desire. A cipher in his own mind, or perhaps in the author's: ill-defined and existing more as a deus ex machina than as a real human character. Williams seems to have not a thought in his head, motivated mainly by whatever strikes his fancy at any moment, including odd night trips to spy on the captain and his wife. Penderton's irrational and sexually driven obsession over the guileless private leads to much angst and climactic drama, which we won't reveal...

In chronicling Penderton's obsessions McCullers distances us from them, perhaps because Penderton himself cannot figure out why he feels as he does, or if he does, why he lashes out in the ways he does. The result is a little dishonest, as though we're not really allowed to be privy completely to the inner life of him and the other characters. But that, I guess, is the nature of repression, and its enigmatic quality, and if that is so then McCullers has done a yeoman's job at capturing its essence.
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Reading Progress

06/20/2012 page 15
11/21/2012 page 135
93.0% "I will finish this yet. It's a good book; that was never the issue."
04/24/2013 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Gervi Bc saw this book on your updates and gave it a try. good book indeed, E! :)

Evan Louise Wareham. Hello. Here is an example of a good book by a woman author. Sorry, Gervi, I seem to have gotten stuck into a debate with someone else. Glad you liked it

message 3: by Evan (last edited Apr 25, 2013 08:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Evan Yes, I've finally written a damned review after more than a year. I expect a royalty from every copy of the book sold as the result of the review being read, Amazon.

message 4: by Evan (last edited Apr 25, 2013 01:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Evan It's a real problem, MMG, because I have like 700 reviews on here and I either face the prospect of somehow painstakingly block copying them all into word folders for preservation and taking them offline OR inserting anti-Amazon copyright notices into all those hundreds of reviews--an even more painstaking task and probably actionable in some way according to Amazon, which is certainly more about censorship than GR ever was. I hate the idea of my free labor stolen to line the already bulging pockets of Jeff Bezos. I think this is a contractual travesty on Goodread's part. If I provide content to a commercial concern, that is called free-lance writing and I get paid for that.

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