Evan's Reviews > Reflections in a Golden Eye

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
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's review
Aug 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: gay-interest-etc, sexuality, yearning, __in-my-collection, 2013-reads, psycho-drama
Read from June 20, 2012 to April 24, 2013

[2016 review revision: This is a very short book that took me a year and a half to read, from late 2011 to spring 2013. The circumstances as to why that was the case used to be in this review, but I have now excised all of those personal effusions and retired them to my own archives. What follows is the rest of the review as it was posted in 2013:]

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 cipher-like 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? [Another 2016 interjection: Obviously I did pen a review, below, but at the time I had issues with providing free labor to Amazon in the form of review content. I still do, but let's just leave it here...].

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 McCullers' 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 device 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.

(KR@Ky, 2013/2016)
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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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