Oct 7 2009

Ethan Frome

Ethan FromeAre you looking for a tale that’s dark, cold, moody, haunting, romantic, and depressing as hell? Look no further! Today I finished Edith Wharton‘s 1911 novel “Ethan Frome“. Wharton is probably best known for “The Age of Innocence” (which I haven’t read, but won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1921). After reading Frome, I may be exploring more by this author.

It starts simply with a businessman visiting a bleak New England town called Starkfield. After seeing a crippled, strong, and quiet man named Ethan Frome, the businessman sets out to learn more about him. His curiosity is further piqued upon discovering that no one wishes to speak of Frome’s troubles. After meeting the man, the businessman learns more about his life, love, and trials than he may have wished (though it’s unclear whether he actually learns these things, or if the book simply outlines all the details that he can never know).

This story is unrelentingly bleak and depressing. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t like it because it was depressing but because it illustrates how little we know about the lives of others and how little thought we give to the struggles,  trials, and sufferings others carry with them through their lives.

“I don’t see’s there’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; ‘cept that down there they’re all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues.”

4.5 out of 5

Oct 5 2009

The Sound and the Fury

The Old Compson HouseStream of consciousness writing can be very interesting, enjoyable, and provocative. I found none of that in this book. In fact, I am stunned (gobsmacked?) by the scholarship and critical acclaim that has been heaped onto this “masterpiece” since its publication in 1929. While I’m sure Faulkner felt very liberated exploring this style, I found his use of it tiresome, obtrusive, and awkward. Pushing through the first 70+ pages was an effort of pure will. The second section (from the point of view of Quentin) was tedious, meandering, inconclusive, and put me to sleep more than once (granted, my attention span is not the best).  The third section (from Jason’s point of view) was better. The fourth section (from Dilsey’s point of view) was well-written, coherent, and a relief (much like inhaling for the first time after holding your breath underwater for some personal time record… yes, headaches and all). I don’t expect every detail to be handed to me on a silver platter but get a bit annoyed when I’m left to guess whether there’s a platter at all.

Now, I know that my attention wanders a bit, sometimes more than just a bit. But when I reach the end of a book (especially one over 300 pages) I expect to know who all the characters were, how they were related to one another, and why the story was being told in the first place. Unless you’ve read this book a number of times, one of the only ways you’re going to know these things is by reading an appendix written by the author in 1933 (which is laden with inconsistencies). Having now read the appendix and understanding more about the characters and storyline I just pushed through, I guess I will enjoy the book better the second time through… if that is ever to happen, which I doubt. The facts that I’ve heard so many good things about Faulkner and that the last section gave me some insight into what he’s capable of, may entice me to try some of his other works… but for now I’m going to give my brain and my tolerance a much needed break.

The quote I picked to sum up this review is not from the book itself but from an introduction the author wrote in 1933:

“It’s fine to think that you will leave something behind you when you die, but it’s better to have made something you can die with.”

2 out of 5

Sep 25 2009

The Awakening

Kate ChopinWhat the hell?! Why does every classic story I pick-up (in my current quest to broaden my literary foundations) have to do with suicide? The Japanese might have made an art form out of sepuku, but western literature isn’t far behind.

I just finished Kate Chopin‘s 1899 short novel “The Awakening”. Why did I choose this book at all? I don’t know. It wasn’t even on “my list”! It was something different I guess, different from what I usually read. Chopin is considered an early feminist. The book is written from a woman’s point of view (like I’m supposed to care about that?!). It has romance (I’m told I should read more romances, go figure). It deals with women’s issues in an unapologetic way, in some respects similar to Tess of the d’Urbervilles (written by a man, 8 years before). Though they deal with separate issues and themes, both books were considered scandalous for their brazen depictions of female sexuality, so I’m lumping them together. See how that works?! I’m the blogger, I say it works.

What did I think about the book? Ummm… I thought it was well-written. It kept my interest (wasn’t sure I was going to continue past the first few pages, at first). The author’s attention to detail gave engaging insights into the lives of affluent New Orleans at the end of the 19th century (seems pretty nice except for the whole hurricane thing).  I was particularly engrossed by the way the author carries the reader through Edna Pontellier’s (main character) evolving thoughts and opinions of her marriage, her children, her freedom (what there is of it), and her life. Her actions and choices do not need to be commended to be understood.

“Ah! si tu savais / Ce que tes yeux me disent—”

4 out of 5