Monday, February 2, 2009

Sartre would be proud.

Current book: The Beautiful and Damned
Pages read: 66-260

Apparently I'm making up for lost time. That and I worked out for a ridiculously long time today, out of Superbowl party remorse, and the elliptical is very good for my page counts. I think mentioning the Superbowl on a literature blog may be a cardinal sin (Hah, get it? Cardinals. I'm so clever.), so let's move on, shall we?

Well, lo and behold, our Mr. Patch falls in love with Gloria Gilbert, and regardless of the fact that she's a twit, goes ahead and marries her. There's some angst in there for a while when Gloria rejects him and claims that she "doesn't want him to kiss her anymore," but she gets right over that and dumps her other prospective fiance, the successful filmmaker, for our hero. In the moment when he declares his love for her, she responds with, "I'm glad." This marriage is going to go really well, guys. I can just tell. Anyway, so they get married and go on a honeymoon during which Gloria whines a lot because the hotel makes her stuffed tomatoes with chicken salad instead of celery (no, I am not making that up), and eventually they come home to New York to settle into their married life together. They end up buying a car and renting a house out in the suburbs and then all action of any kind ceases for a hundred pages or so. We spend that hundred pages hearing about their little fights over things like laundry (I would like to point out that they're not fighting over who has to do the laundry, but rather over who has to ring for the chambermaid and send it out. Can that be a chore that I have do? I can handle ringing for the chambermaid. I am totally on that.) and watching them gradually get bored with each other's company. It's a pretty depressing portrait of marriage, but then again, Gloria doesn't exactly love the cunning young lad. (Anthony, in point of fact, doesn't love her either, though at least he's convinced himself that he does.) Right now, I still like Anthony ok. He's a bit worthless, and I'm beginning to lose my amused tolerance for him, but he hasn't made any really wretched mistakes. That, however, is about to change.

At some point during a summer trip out to the country for the day, Gloria decides it's time to go home before Anthony, who's been drinking all afternoon with his friends, is ready. She drags him to the train station, but waiting in the heat of the afternoon sun, he decides that he's had enough, and insists that they stay at their country friends' for dinner rather than catching the train. Gloria refuses, and as a result he restrains her bodily, despite her tears and verbal protests, until the train has come and gone. It doesn't sound that bad, I realize, but he has no real reason to make her stay except that he's drunk, and she protests so mightily, with screaming and crying and begging him to let her go, that it's obviously an moment of complete domination. It is, I think, abuse. So now I don't like Anthony anymore. Ok, Gloria's a twit, and I could see getting tired of her, but she's the twit he chose to marry, and he has no right to demean her that way. We get a little of his internal monologue during this bit, too, and it's this one sentence that really pushed me over into hating him:

"Ah, she might hate him now, but afterward she would admire him for his dominance."

Screw you, Anthony Patch. To our twit Gloria's credit, she ends the train station scene by biting him on the thumb hard enough to draw blood. (Which I have to say is kind of an awesome picture: proper 1920s woman with her jaws sunk in her husband's thumb in the middle of crowded train platform. Someone should illustrate it.) She's initially unforgivingly angry with him, but it just seems to slide out of the narrative in the next couple of pages. There's no real explanation of why or how she forgives him; it just kind of happens.

Anyway, after that the action ceases once more until a summer evening at the country house. A few of Anthony's friends are staying as guests, and Gloria has become more and more intolerant of their company, until finally she's reached her breaking point. She storms out of the house at 2:30 in the morning with the intent of catching the next train to the city and escaping the feeling of oppression that their country house has begun to give her. Anthony follows her, and eventually two of his friends find them both waiting at the train station. Gloria, sure of the fact that to return to the house would crush her spirit forever, insists that they wait for the morning train. Anthony's friends, then, launch into a philosophical discussion which basically ends with Gloria declaring that the only point to be learned in life is that there's no point to be learned in life. (There's also an interesting discussion of the fact that the Bible is a book cobbled together by pornographers, comedians, and poets, and was written mostly for a lark. I can't imagine that went down well with most 1920s readers. Way to be subversive, Fitzgerald.) Gloria goes off home on the morning train, leaving Anthony and the others to hang out in the country.

The prose has stopped being as cutesy, and there haven't been any more jarring mythological vignettes, but I'm a little disappointed that Fitzgerald has fulfilled the predictable, "Oh, the ennui of a meaningless life when all there is to entertain oneself is the dissipation of the rich." Come to think of it, it's not entirely unlike Main Street, except that it's the rich city version of being stifled by your surroundings and choices. Also, I liked Main Street. Ok, that's not really fair. This isn't bad. I'm fairly entertained by it, and it's no chore to get through the prose, because regardless of the fact that little happens, Fitzgerald still moves the events of the everyday along. The characters, though, seem to lack dimensionality. Some of that is intentional - these people don't have a whole lot to offer the world - but I'd like to care more about them. It's hard to appreciate the tragedy of persistent ennui when you don't really care about the people to whom it's happening.

Also, there's a weird Japanese servant character who's Gloria and Anthony's housekeeper, and I don't know how I feel about him. I'd call him a racist caricature, and there's some of that in the presentation of his dialect, but Fitzgerald isn't doing a completely awful job with him, and we actually end up feeling some sympathy for him. I'm still mystified as to what purpose he's serving, though.

Finally, there's a completely awesome moment of dialogue that I have to share with you. The context of this, which isn't actually very important, is that Anthony's discussing his grandfather with a friend.

"Is he nice?" she demanded.
"Well, in private life he's seldom unnecessarily disagreeable."

I want to start working that into conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Nothing like post-game guilt to catapult one back on track. I spent the morning looking at private schools nearby. Let it suffice to say that they would not like the comments made by the train-station group either. Ayo-allemat!!!



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