Thursday, April 30, 2009

Deeds not Words.

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: 183-246

It's to Henry James's enormous credit that it actually takes me more than a minute a page to read this book. Normally, and especially when I'm working out, and doubly especially when the subject matter is not all that interesting, I get a significantly better rate than that. In this book, though, it's just impossible to maintain the thread of the narrative when I skip paragraphs or sections. I find myself having to stop and look back to determine who or what is being discussed. I realize this sounds like it might be a bad thing, but what it actually means is that James is moving the text along well enough to require sustained attention. It's demanding, but the mark of a good writer. (Yes, I hate myself for saying he's a good writer. I never thought I'd admit it about James, but the artistry of his craft is impossible to deny. Even if he does describe everyone we meet for five pages each.)

Since Basil met with Verena and took that fateful stroll with her, his interest in her has renewed itself. He's attended several of her speeches, though he considers everything she says to be nonsense in addition to poor oratory, and seems to want to marry her almost as much because it'll prove that she's a silly little girl who doesn't believe what she espouses in public as because he's interested in her romantically. (Did you stay with me on that sentence? The syntax got all twisty, so I was just checking. (I almost used the word tortuous instead of twisty, but people get so confused by tortuous versus torturous that I abstained. Of course now I've raised the question in this parenthetical, but maybe it'll make you go look it up. A blogger can dream.))

Anyway, while Basil's daydreaming about marrying her, Olive's beginning to realize that Verena might soon slip through her fingers. She's experiencing enormous popularity, being invited to tour in New York as well as across the country, and is continuously plagued by suitors of both the romantic and entrepreneurial type, some of whom manage to be both simultaneously. Among these double threats is Mr. Burrage, the son of a woman deeply interested in the Cause (the emancipation of women). Mrs. Burrage invites Verena and Olive to New York, where Verena successfully lectures, but afterward meets clandestinely with Olive to propose the marriage of Verena and her son. It's interesting that Olive is the one whom Mrs. Burrage feels she needs to ask permission for the union, but she keenly realizes that Olive is in complete control of Verena's movements and decisions at this point. Olive leaves the interview having made no promises, but it seems to us that she's entertaining the idea simply to keep Basil from marrying her...well, there's no good word for Verena's relationship with Olive, so I'm going with...ward. When Olive returns to the lodging house that she and Verena are staying in whilst in New York, however, she finds that Verena has again gone out with Basil, and has already stayed with him for the scandalous period of at least four hours. (Just think of what could happen in four hours. I mean, really. They could be holding hands.)

James is definitely avoiding choosing a side in the battle over The Woman Question, but he's offering a clever and satirical portrait of all of Boston society, its interlopers, and their various interactions instead. He's hardly laudatory, but isn't particularly biting, either; the novel is more a reflection of reality portrayed through the lens of prose than it is an interpretation of that reality. (Although, weirdly, he chose to refer to himself in the first person once in the middle of the book. It's not like the narrator's a character, and it came completely out of nowhere. I was like, "Um, what happened there, James? Feeling a little neglected, were we?")

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We'll call it artistic license.

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: 95-183

I've returned from the land of not reading boring literature, so...I'm reading boring literature again? My previous statement that the book isn't as bad as I remember was pretty accurate, though, again, it's largely based on the fact that I'm not being forced to listen to annoying freshmen discuss it pedantically for three hours a week. Ahem.

Anyway, Olive and Verena only grow closer as the months pass. At one point, Olive actually pays off Verena's father to leave them alone for a year, and he happily agrees. While it's not entirely surprising, it certainly doesn't reflect well on Verena's family. (But they're already low class and therefore suspect anyway. It's a bit disappointing that James enforces such an obvious stereotype, actually.) Afterward, Olive makes Verena promise that she won't get married, which Verena so swears, and with very few qualms. Olive makes other demands, too, and generally controls Verena's actions and whereabouts at all times. It's a sharp little bit of irony from James that Verena's far more controlled by a woman, Olive, than she ever was by her father or even male society in general. It's not clear where James actually stands on women's rights, but he's certainly offering barbed commentary about both sides of the issue.

Eventually, Olive and Verena go gallivanting off to Europe together, where Olive whirls Verena around the continent, introducing her to Society and fending off her various suitors. While they're away, we get a little picture of Basil Ransom's life, in which he is generally unhappy in New York and unable to find a proper job. He's seeing Luna, Olive's sister, on a regular basis, and she obviously wants to marry him, but he's pretty uninterested. Finally, he heads back to Boston to find Verena, and drops in on her, newly returned from Europe, at her parents' house in Cambridge. At the end of the last chapter I read, she had just proposed that they take a stroll together. And we all know what it means when a woman proposes a stroll. That harlot.

Occasionally, James waxes eloquent and shocks the hell out of me, and I ought to give him the credit he deserves for it. I actually remembered, when I read it again, this particularly beautiful bit of prose:
The air, in its windless chill, seemed to tinkle like a crystal, the faintest gradations of tone were perceptible in the sky, the west became deep and delicate, everything grew doubly distinct before taking on the dimness of evening. There were pink flushes on snow, 'tender' reflections in patches of stiffened marsh, sounds of car-bells, no longer vulgar, but almost silvery, on the long bridge, lonely outlines of distant dusky undulations against the fading glow. (136)
Although, now that I look at that, it is one ridiculous, heinous run-on sentence. Pretty, though.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tune in next week!

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: None

Here begins an official hiatus through next Tuesday. It's time for your faithful literary correspondent to take a vacation, and frankly, she can't be bothered with Henry James when she is on holiday. Reading 19th-century literature just doesn't fit under the heading of recreation, friends.

But fear not, for said correspondent will return on Wednesday the 29th to regale you with sarcastic commentary and an overabundance of parentheses. This is your literary blogger, signing off.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Friends who are girls?

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: 55-95

Wow, did nothing happen in 40 pages. Shockingly, shockingly nothing. Verena Tarrant came to visit Olive Chancellor, and Olive was freakishly clingy and demanded that they become bosom friends (heh) instantly, which Verena was happy to go along with because she's flighty and ridiculous. We found out that Verena's mother thinks that Olive will act as a conduit through which the Tarrant family can enter society. (Apparently Verena's mother is myopic, because Olive couldn't be less of a society girl. She wears plain-cut black frocks and consorts with vegetarians. I mean, really.) Basil manages to meet Verena in Olive's drawing room and is pretty much determined to woo her at this point. That's it. Really. I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel, here. Why did this take 40 pages? No one will ever know.

Honestly, James isn't as bad as I remember, but then again, when I read this book the first time it was for a horrible seminar course taught by a completely untalented professor and populated by a bunch of arrogant sophomores. So now it seems a little better, and I sort of take back the incredibly vulgar nickname by which I used to refer to James on a regular basis*. Although, honestly, I miss the whispered sarcasm from my friend B. who used to sit next to me and exchange caustic barbs. Oh, caustic barbs. You go so well with 19th-century literature.

*Really, it's not fit for the internet. Bad, bad words.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four out of five cannibals agree.

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: 5-55

Oh, Henry James, why do you spend five pages describing each character every time we meet a new one? Is that really necessary? (It's like J. R. R. Tolkien, only without the 3,000 years of backstory that accompanies said description. I am aware, John Ronald Reuel, that elves live forever. It's probably why they avoid mixed company.)

So far we've met our protagonist, a lovely Southern gentleman who goes by the name of Basil Ransom (And whom I keep wanting to call Basil Rathbone. Also, that makes me picture him as Basil Rathbone, which is actually fairly entertaining for me.), and his cousin, an old maid named Olive Chancellor. Basil's visiting his cousin in Boston for an extended period to see what he can see of the culture of the North. It's not too far past the Civil War, and there's a lot of discussion of the contrasts between Northern and Southern culture, mostly focusing on the fact that Northerners are cultured and Southerners aren't. (It's great how books illustrate for us the wonderful changes that have occurred since that dark era, isn't it? I mean, just look at the South now. Vast bastion of culture, really, not at all mired in the past and hidebound by outdated ideas. Ahem.)

Anyway, Olive's into the new movement for women and interested in sharing her ideas with her wayward cousin, so she drags him along to a meeting of Progressive Individuals to hear a Distinguished Lecturer on The Woman Question. (And other things with capital letters!) There they meet Verena Tarrant, a young Titian-haired beauty (Look at that. He's infecting me with his diction. Help!) who speaks on the topic of women's rights. (Also a bunch of other people who aren't important, although Basil does, at one point, mentally characterize them as "mediums, Communists, [and] vegetarians," which is totally awesome. I kind of want to start a band.) She's accompanied by her parents, who are spiritualists and quite proprietary of her, but also eager to help her achieve the fame they feel is her due. Anyway, Basil is immediately taken with her, though he dismisses her speech as nonsense that her parents have brainwashed her into spouting. (He's not what you'd call a sensitive modern man. I'm sure this will end well.)

I'd pretend that I'm predicting he's going to fall in love with her, but I've already read this book, so I'm actually sure of the fact. But I could predict it even if I hadn't read it. Because these things always seem to happen. At first I thought I didn't remember the novel that well, but I've got pretty good recall as I'm going along. I'm remembering pretty handily how boring the whole thing is. Later, however, there will be implications of lesbian activity, so everyone hold out for that.

I actually borrowed my copy of this book from a friend who was in the class that I had to read it for and wisely retained her copy instead of selling it for ready money. It's quite convenient for me, espeically since the library didn't have it. However, it was a used copy when she bought it, and whoever had it first underlined in it. I hate underlining. If you underline, you are automatically a terrible person, just so you know. Why would you do that?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Drieser Conclusion

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 840-874 (end)

Well, Clyde's dead, his flame snuffed by the hand of the state of New York, after putting up a pretty pathetic fight via trial, appeal, and petition to the governor for clemency. The trial actually wasn't that bad; I expected, as I may have mentioned, that Clyde would break down on the witness stand and confess everything, but he kept it together pretty well. He even protected Sondra's name, regardless of the fact that her corroboration of a small detail may have helped his case. I don't know why he suddenly got all noble, but it was nice to see that he's not completely despicable all the time. Anyway, in the end, it's still not enough, and he's convicted and sentenced to death.

There's a considerable amount of description of both his mother's religious pressure on him to embrace God and accept the burden of his sin (which is a little weird, actually, since she still thinks he's innocent) and his daily life on death row. The religious stuff seems to indicate that Dreiser doesn't much hold with deathbed conversions. The part about death row is pretty staunchly anti-death penalty. There's just a lot of talk about the inaccuracies of bureaucracy and the cruelty of forcing men to watch their comrades walk the last walk down to the electric chair. (As glib as I've been about Clyde getting executed, I was glad to see that's where Drieser went with it. It was a sensitive and fair treatment of a thorny issue, in the end.) What with the pro-abortion and anti-death penalty sentiment, Drieser's a regular progressive. Who would have thought? The book ends with a scene of Clyde's family out proselytizing in the streets, exactly as it started save for the fact that the members of their little group have changed. It's a sort of final warning to the reader that nothing has changed, and that, in fact, anyone can be made into the murderer that Clyde eventually became. American society, look upon your ills!

Well, it was ok. Not 100 best novels of all time material, but more entertaining than I was expecting. Honestly, though, I feel like it's the equivalent, as I've said, of reading John Grisham 80 years in the future. Only with a lot more moralizing.

Also, Drieser really needs to work on the double negatives. I know I mentioned it before, but he sunk to new lows today with "not unakin." Not unakin? I didn't even recognize the word unakin at first because it was so useless and absurd. It was not unakin to hackery.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Granted a continuance

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 697-840

Well, yesterday I read 20 pages and you got a bunch of stuff. Today I read 143 and you get nothing. Hah! I am fickle and unpredictable!

Actually, I'm incredibly close to the end, so I'm saving it all for a final post tomorrow. Who thinks Clyde gets to ride the lightning? 'Cause I'm pretty sure it's a safe bet.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

May it please the court

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 678-697

Clyde's trial has started, and we're being treated to pretty much a word-for-word transcription of the lawyers' statements so far. There was jury selection, too, which was less word-for-word, but still not the most thrilling thing to include in a novel, if one were to consider it carefully. (I'm not sure, for the record, that Dreiser is altogether chary in such considerations. (Hah. For the record. Legal pun.)) Anyway, so basically it's going to come down to how trustworthy the jury thinks Clyde is, because there's not really enough evidence to convict him beyond the ol' shadowy doubt, but it's damn close. Both sets of lawyers are making it into a character contest as a result, and frankly, I don't think Clyde's character is going to stand up to scrutiny. Neither, apparently do his lawyers, who are going to cast him as a victim of circumstance and the illnesses of American society, it seems.

He's been heavily coached to believe that he is, in fact, innocent. I'm pretty sure his lawyers did that because they knew if he thought he were really guilty, he would totally break down on the witness stand. (Have I mentioned that he's a worthless schlub? I believe I may have. He's also really not that smart. I mean, Christ, he worked from his own initials to make up the pseudonyms he used to sign at various hotel registers. I suppose, as I mentioned before, I ought to think he's a better person because of the fact that planning a murder caused him to have lapses in judgement, but instead it just makes me go, "You can't even kill somebody right. Schlub.") Chances are pretty good that he'll break down on the witness stand anyway. I'm kind of excited for it. (I keep wanting to type witless stand. Fruedian much?)

That was a lot of post for 20 pages. It may be that I just don't want to get to The Bostonians very much. Although I will get to use the phrase "The Woman Question" a lot, and who doesn't love that?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Like Mexican food. And outside.

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: None

It's Friday. And there were other things.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Film at 11.

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 673-678

Yes, I read five pages. Clyde was still an idiot.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If the glove fits...

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 577-673

Well, Clyde, who does make it over to the resort where Sondra is staying, soon gets caught, (surprise of surprises) and proves himself truly idiotic by denying all connection with Roberta upon his initial interrogation. Seriously, Clyde? You've been dating the girl for a year and have exchanged multiple letters and phone calls with her, not to mention the fact that you're her direct supervisor at work. Did you think they weren't going to check that out? I'm beginning to wonder if his mental capacity was damaged by his early religious upbringing. (Was that harsh? That was harsh. Sorry, religious establishment. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll bounce right back.)

Anyway, this hundred pages basically consists of various occurrences of Clyde lying to the cops and his lawyers. Eventually, though, his uncle the collar-factory owner sends him some high-level attorneys who arrange a complex series of lies and fabrications that will become the basis of his case. He's pleading not guilty and calling the whole thing an accident, which is about the biggest stretch in the known universe, but we'll see if he gets away with it. Don't feel too bad that his lawyers are making stuff up, either, because the district attorney has already planted evidence to try to more clearly incriminate him.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sondra and her father are pulling all their political strings to keep her name out of the whole story, though she still can't believe Clyde would ever do something so terrible. (I forgot to mention that Sondra always speaks to Clyde in baby-talk, the transcription of which is maddening in the extreme. I'm surprised he didn't off her instead of Roberta. I mean, seriously, let me offer you an excerpt: "Was he so tired? My Clydie-mydie boy, after his work yesterday. Why didn't my baby boy tell me?" (585). Christ on a crutch, I want to kill her.) Also, Clyde's mother and sister, back in Denver (where they moved after Kansas City) have just read the story in the papers and are contemplating what to do next.

Like I said, sensationalist crime drama. ::shrug:: I guess I'll take it, but I don't have much analysis to offer. My prediction is that Clyde will be convicted and sentenced to death, but that might only be because I've read Sister Carrie and am familiar with Dreiser's predilections.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reason number two: look what I can do.

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 488-577

Murder, guys! Premeditated, bungled, whiny murder on a lake in northern New York, sure, but murder nonetheless. As you may have guessed, the major event of this section is Clyde's rather sloppily executed killing of Roberta, but man do we have to listen to a lot of whining and rationalizing before he does it. (Ok, ok, I accept that Drieser is just trying to make him human and believable, but the little conversations with himself where his evil side tries to quell the objections of his good side are a bit overdone, in my opinion. It's like shoulder-angel versus shoulder-devil. Only this counts as literature, apparently. I don't know who makes these decisions.)

Anyway, his method is this: he convinces the poor Roberta that he's finally going to marry her and asks her to meet him for a getaway to the Adirondacks. She complies, desperate as she is for any sign of either a resolution to the ruin that her life has become or, in fact, affection from the man whom she still seems to love. After traveling incognito on the train, in separate compartments and everything, they head to a semi-secluded lodge and embark on a day trip to the least popular of the local lakes, which Clyde had already taken the trouble to scout out beforehand as a likely scene for his crime. He has second and third and even fourth thoughts about the whole thing, and keeps observing Roberta's innocence and joy in life and mentally contrasting them with the fact that she's going to be dead in a matter of hours. None of this stops him from getting her into a boat and off to the most secluded corner of the lake, however. When they're in the perfect spot, he gets ready to commit the murder but finds himself unable to follow through. However, in the act of attempting but failing to outright kill her, he "accidentally" hits her on the head and upsets the boat, drowning her while he makes good his escape. Although he tells himself mentally that it's uncertain that he really intended to do it, it's murder in my book. (Legally, it'd have to be at least manslaughter, and certainly negligent homicide, since he lets her drown once she's already in the water. My knowledge of the definitions aren't that good, but he's a creep, ok?)

Anyway, then he runs off through the woods to go to Sondra, and we're left with a bunch of legal and political officials investigating the crime. They decide it's murder fairly quickly, since getting whacked in the face with a camera (Yep, you read that right. A camera. For taking pretty pictures of your illegitmate pseudo-honeymoon. And bludgeoning your pregnant girlfriend. New feature, that.) looks pretty different than just plain old drowning, and already suspect Clyde, though he's supposed to have drowned as well. That's about where we are. There's not a chance in hell he's going to get away with it, especially since the local district attorney is up for re-election. The questions, then, are how he's going to get caught, what he's going to say when he does, and whether they're going to give him the death penalty. (I think there may be a trip to the electric chair in store for our anti-hero.)

Well, it's reading like a crime novel at this point, which is a lot more entertaining than the initial moralizing, but it's far from literary. I mean, honestly, I feel as though I'm reading bestseller trash from the 20s. I don't know who decided that the older a book gets, the more literary it becomes, but I have to object. It's like how the AFI gives every movie that was made before 1960 an extra star, regardless of how completely awful it is. Sheesh.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sauntering vaguely downward

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 386-488

So, actual plot! I was surprised and actually vaguely interested, which made for a nice change, especially since I was suffering an attack of literary ennui today. I just had one of those, "I want a really good story to read," kind of days. You know, when you're not even looking for the greatest book ever written, but rather something that keeps you reading with the light on long past your bedtime, that makes you want to jump into the pages and take off with the characters on great adventures, and that, when you finish it, leaves you with a throb of grief because it's over. I want to read a story that I'm sorry I can't read again for the first time. Anyway, that's not where Dreiser went or anything, but any level of entertainment was more than I was expecting.

Our hero (Well, ok, not actually a hero. Anti-hero, I suppose, although that makes him seem a lot cooler than he really is.) Clyde has, as predicted, gotten his innocent factory-girl lover pregnant, but is so busy making love (in the non-Biblical sense) to Sondra the society girl that he can't be bothered to deal with it. (Ok, that's unfair. He's actually paying attention to the problem, but in a far less than noble fashion.) They try a couple of over-the-counter abortion medications, which, predictably, don't do anything at all, and then entreat a doctor to perform an abortion, but he refuses. After a while, Roberta decides that there's nothing for it but to get married, even though it will threaten Clyde's career, since he's not supposed to consort with his employees. Clyde, however, has no desire to marry Roberta, since he's successfully courting Sondra, and continues to ignore the situation as long as possible. She goes home for a while, but is expecting Clyde to show up at some point and marry her and has told her parents that they're already married, I believe. Anyway, he resolves that he won't marry her, no matter what, and very nearly proposes marriage to Sondra; they're certainly close to an engagement.

Considering the problem, he finds himself reading a newspaper story about a boating accident in the Adirondacks in which a man and his young fiancee were unfortunately drowned. (Now pay attention, because this is where it gets good.) Upon reading the story, Clyde decides that it would just be so darn convenient if something like that were to happen to him and Roberta, especially since he's a very good swimmer and she's an awful one. He's a little troubled by his complete descent into evil, at least enough to have nightmares, but that doesn't stop him from continuing to plan on murdering his illegitimately pregnant girlfriend.

Did I mention that he's an anti-hero? He's an anti-hero. Honestly, his transformation to murderer is a little sudden, but not actually unbelievable, since he's been pretty much a complete tool for the whole book. I'm interested to see if he goes through with it, and the horrible disaster that his life will no doubt become when he does.

I was surprised that Dreiser took such a nuanced view of abortion. The doctor disapproves of it, yes, and we're obviously not supposed to consider Roberta or Clyde to be responsible young people, but Drieser portrays the difficulty of unwanted pregnancy pretty sensitively. Roberta seems to be a real victim whose problem would be solved simply and cleanly with an abortion, and Drieser offers little argument about the possible immorality of the decision. Who would have expected it, with all the previous moralizing?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shiv and Let Die

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: None

Hey, it was my 100th post yesterday. That'd be more impressive if it had been of any substance. Or if this one were. But it's the weekend.

I saw the Minnesota Rollergirl championships last night, and I feel that watching young women on roller skates try to kill each other was a better use of my time than reading about the downfall of early 20th-century youth. Perhaps that's because I'm an early 21st-century youth.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mea maxima culpa

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: None

I actually forgot to post yesterday. I can't believe that happened. I mean, I didn't read, but still. Where are the standards? You'll have to forgive me, dear readers, for my reprehensible lack of consistency. (Though some might use this opportunity to bandy the word hobgoblin recklessly about. I add, with no agenda.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Be not coy

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 303-386

Well, I didn't get a chance to read today, which leaves me with the same summary I had yesterday: Clyde and Roberta are ostensibly in love, but when one of Gilbert's (Clyde's cousin) friends, Sondra, takes an interest in Clyde, he begins having second thoughts, especially since Sondra is both incredibly beautiful and on the same social and economic level as Clyde.

That's all. I'm not even joking. Obviously, Dreiser is trying to make the point that the American class system is unfair, but I'm not sure where he's going aside from that. I mean, Clyde is pretty much a reprobate, but he doesn't seem representative of all American youth, so I don't see that he's acting as a commentary on the fate of most young people. Perhaps he's a simply cautionary tale, a warning about how not to act, but Christ, Dreiser, do you need hundreds of pages to make that point?

The answer to that is, apparently, yes.

Oh, I forgot to mention that even though Roberta is a Good Girl, and objected heavily on several occasions, she and Clyde had sex. He played the, "If you really loved me, you'd..." card, actually, in addition to acting petulant and implying that he'd leave her if she didn't sleep with him. He's just the swellest guy ever, isn't he? Dreiser must have missed the day when they explained the definition of sympathetic. But it's ok, I bet Clyde will marry her, right? Because it would be the only noble thing to do, and doing the opposite would make him just like the anonymous man who got his sister in trouble. He would never be that hypocritical.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Plot thickener

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 303-386

In the interests of more substantive posting, I'm going to wait and combine today's pages with tomorrow's. I hope that it'll allow me to actually be able to talk about something intelligently, instead of finding myself at a loss for analysis. We'll see how that works out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 217-301

I feel like a bad chronicler of literature, but it's astonishing how little happens in how many pages of this book. Basically, in 84 pages, Clyde languished for a while in his menial job, went to dinner at his uncle's house, got promoted to floor manager of the collar-stamping division (the place where they stamp labels onto the collars that say what sizes they are), and, after hiring a poor farm girl as a collar-stamper, subsequently fell in love with her (which is, of course, against company policy).

I wish I had thrilling commentary to offer you about it, but I just don't. There's a huge amount of description of every small event that causes it to extend to dozens of pages, but you're left without a deep understanding of the characters or the situations they're in. It's not bad, exactly, just mediocre and uninspiring.

Clyde is still pretty uninteresting, though hardly a true transgressor, and his cousin Gilbert doesn't like him because he thinks he's counting on the family name to get him ahead (which he is, really). Clyde's new girl, though poor, actually seems nice (though her name is Roberta, which is only a small step up from Hortense).

Basically, my overwhelming feeling at this point is, "Eh."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vehicular manslaughter!

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 115-216

So, our young hero, Clyde, (who I'm going to go ahead and assess as a total jerk at this point, by the way), enamored of his scarlet woman, Hortense (I forget to comment on the name when I mentioned it the first time, so can I take this moment to say - worst. name. ever.) decides to go on a pleasure trip to the countryside with her and his bellhop friends one night. She's basically promised him sex after the outing in exchange for a fur coat (This fur coat, I might add, is costing him $125 which his pregnant sister needs to pay for the hospital. I mean, yes, it's his money to use as he sees fit, but wow.) Anyway, on the way back from the skating party, the driver of the car, one of the other bellhops, hits and kills an eleven-year-old girl and then drives off, eluding the police. He's so desperate to remain unseen, however, that he turns off the car's headlights and ends up crashing the car and injuring Hortense and several of the others, but neither himself nor Clyde. Clyde abandons the car, his friends, and his girlfriend and runs off. One of his friends rats everyone out, and Clyde eventually leaves the city and takes up a nomadic existence as a dishwasher and bellhop in various American cities. Later, he meets his uncle, a successful businessman who runs a collar manufacturing business, and wheedles a job out of him at the factory. His cousin, Gilbert, is his supervisor and justifiably annoyed by his lack of skills, so his first job is on the collar-shrinking floor - in other words, menial labor in poor conditions. That's where he is now, but I suspect he'll be working his way up the nepotistic ladder anytime now.

Surprisingly, the plot is moving along pretty well. I mean, a hit-and-run accident and fugitive existence across America? That's exciting stuff. The ridiculous moralizing, however, has continued apace and is as obnoxious and heavy-handed as ever. I wonder, really, if Drieser is mocking his contemporaries. It seems as though he must be making a commentary on the cultural understanding of morality rather than trying to inculcate that morality in his readers. I hope. I'll be better able to assess that when I see how things come out for Clyde and his sister. I might be giving Drieser too much credit. But as I recall, dimly, through the mists of 19th Century American Literature in the spring of junior year of college, Sister Carrie was pretty sardonic, so this might be, too.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Keep It Holy

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: None

Sunday is, after all, a day of rest. I'm sure Mr. Dreiser would approve of my moral and responsible choice not to do anything. Because I was respecting the Sabbath. Piety is my middle name, you know. Well, it could be. If I were an entirely different person. I'm going now, before this gets any more nonsensical.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Female Troubles

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 58-115

Clyde has continued to sink into moral degeneracy, drinking and gadding about with his bellhop friends, and has also had sex with a prostitute. He's now spending most of his bellhop wages on a loose woman (but not a prostitute) named Hortense, who's using him for his ready cash and its attendant restaurant meals and gifts. His sister, who we last saw running off to get married, has returned to Kansas City pregnant and ::gasp:: still unmarried.

So far that's it. Gee, I wonder what the message of this book's going to be? Honestly, there's not much to report, plus it's Saturday so I'm unmotivated. I'll give you some more substance soon. Well, assuming there is some.

Also, Dreiser uses double negatives (like "not unaffected") every other sentence, and it's starting to get to me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

We all scream for...morality?

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 16-58

So far this book is about an uber-religious family, the Griffiths, in a late 19th-century city (which I think is Kansas City, but I can't remember and I'm lazy right now so I'm not going to page through the book and look). Their eldest daughter has already run away with a boy, and their eldest son, Clyde, who's disillusioned with all the proselytizing, has become a bellboy at a fancy hotel and is hoarding his wages in order, one assumes, to eventually escape his life of evangelism. That's about it, since I didn't get very far.

It's pretty Victorian morality-oriented so far, I have to say. I think the plot will pick up, but I predict that Clyde will come to No Good. You heard it here first.

Also, he spent a brief period as a soda jerk at an ice cream counter, and it made me want an ice cream sundae really badly. Even though I had one on Wednesday. I'm such an addict.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The horses' heads were toward eternity

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: 199-297 (end)

So, the end of this book was not particularly remarkable or astonishing. As I said before, it's as though Willa Cather chose a part of the lives of these New Mexican priests and went about illustrating it with her prose. The end, by that definition, is simply another part of the story, rather than an intense climax.

Bishop Latour does, in fact, die in the end, as does his friend and fellow priest, Father Vaillant, but both men slip into death as a result of age and lives lived fully. The companionship that exists between the two priests was forged early in their years at seminary, and seems to last even beyond their separation, both by Father Vaillant's eventual posting to Colorado Territory and by death itself. The end of the novel clearly emphasizes the impact that all people have on the lives of others, reinforcing the idea that one or a few individuals can change the existence of many.

That said, I don't feel that Willa Cather came down on the side of the Catholic Church, or, for that matter, expressed any opposition to it. Again, it's as though the story was simply being told: this is what happened, and the reader can pass judgement, but Cather doesn't offer it. It gave me a feeling of intense trust in the author that I seldom experience when reading fiction. (Or non-fiction, come to think of it. Even with footnotes.)

It's odd that the title of the novel is Death Comes for the Archbishop. That's also the title of the last section, but I don't know that it's the most appropriate. You could say that the emphasis on the end of his life is an indication that the reader should reflect on the fact that all lives end in the same way, but I feel like it grates a little against my sense of the smooth continuity of the book. Why focus on the end when the whole point was the completeness of his life and the mutual impacts that his life and the people and territory of New Mexico had upon one another? (That was kind of a weird sentence, I realize. But I'm leaving it. Hah.) A better title would simply have been The Archbishop. It's not as catchy, though; I'll give you that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The ornament of a house

Current book: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Pages read: 199-297 (end)

I finished this, but don't have time to write today in the depth that I'd like, so I'm saving the post for tomorrow. However, I worked out, cleaned the apartment, did laundry, changed the sheets, went to work, and then had a lovely dinner with my husband and my brother and my good friend, Kate (who is also my brother's girlfriend, but was my friend first. It's complicated.). The point is, my time was well spent. More on Willa Cather tomorrow.


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