Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Great Gatsby (The Authorized Text)
The Great American Novel
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles… It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”

Set on the East Coast in the roaring 20′s, this novel is a classic -- some claim it is the great American novel or at least one of them (Huckleberry Finn and Moby-Dick have been included in this list). If not the best depiction of the American iconic story it is still a great read and it was with heightened anticipation of this that I recently reread this book. That Fitzgerald's novel is a great book is demonstrated by the many layers of meaning and myriad ways that you can interpret the story. One approach is to focus on crime and there is plenty of that to be found in the book including: murder, bootlegging, financial theft, adultery, speeding and fraud to mention many if not all. Another interesting way of looking at the novel is that the real character, Tom Buchanan, dislikable as he may be, triumphs over the fake character of Gatsby. Throughout the novel Gatsby seeks to be something he is not and when his false front crashes there is nothing left. No friends, no possessions, no life. My favorite moments of the book also have to include the sheer poetry of Fitzgerald's writing. This, the narration of Nick Carraway, and all the rest made it a book I enjoyed rereading as much as any in recent memory. From it we learn that often the wanting of something is better than actually having it. Furthermore, one true friend is worth infinitely more than a multitude of acquaintances.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Flannery O'Connor

The writing style of Flannery O'Connor awakens the reader with its felicity. The author's imagination takes over from there and with Flannery the reader is in for a wild ride.
I have the collection,
Flannery O'Connor : Collected Works : Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor , in my library. Wise Blood, her first novel and the first work in this collection, is a gothic take on the world of southern itinerant preachers. Hazel Motes' Church without Christ is a bleakly humorous approach to the whole god/man situation and the psychology portrayal of Motes is worth studying through a rereading of this short work. I cannot remember another work that challenges the modernists view and raises questions in so many different ways. The sad lives of Leonora and Hazel come together in a haunting way following episodes in which Hazel, again and again is treated almost sadistically both by others and himself. The collections of short fiction underscore the ability of O'Connor to surprise and challenge the reader. I find myself returning to her work from time to time just to make sure that my previous readings were not a dream.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Yes, this is a book (actually there have been several over the years) that, in spite of some redeeming features, I do not like and would not recommend (consider The Ox-Bow Incident by Bret Harte instead, if you must read a western). In this case, Warlock by Oakley Hall, is a book that I found uninteresting and repetitive in spite of being otherwise well written. Amazingly, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 when it was originally published.
I say amazingly although I have never been able to determine the basis for the Pulitzer judges' selections and I've found the winners (those that I have read) uneven in quality and readability. Warlock was, however, thought highly enough by the editors at the New York Review Books press to warrant a recent reprinting. And writers as noted as Robert Stone and Thomas Pynchon have sung its' praises.
The novel does have some redeeming features for this reader. As I noted it is well written with a readable style that helped me to persevere in my reading and it has one structural feature that I found appealing: inserted throughout an otherwise straightforward narrative are selections from the "Journals of Henry Holmes Goodpasture". This character and his journals add a personal note and interesting commentary on the events in Warlock. Oh, by the way it is a "western" with all the typical characters and events including a shootout at the (Acme) corral. There is little else I can say about this book other than now I can take pleasure in moving on to other summer reading.

Warlock by Oakley Hall. New York Review Books, New York. 2006 (1958)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Remains of the Day

I have just read this novel for the second time, having read it in the not so distant past of the mid-nineties shortly after it was published and won the Booker Prize for fiction.
My current reading confirms the reasonableness of that award and reminds me of the felicitous style demonstrated by Kazuo Ishiguro in writing this book. The music of the prose helped make bearable the oppressiveness of the past and the icy gravity of Stevens" approach to his work and his life (the two are interchangeable). Stevens is the narrator of the story and as a butler he demonstrates dedication to his craft that goes above and beyond "a life of service". The price he pays is an inability to relate to other humans with any sort of feeling that goes beyond the formality of his work environment. As is typical of truly good books you can tell a lot from the first page as to what will be important. Ironically, we find reference to both an "expedition" and "imagination" on the opening page; two things that Stevens has never experienced in his life of service. As the story is told looking back from a vantage point near the end of his life it has the flavor of nostalgia, but with that flavor the flatness of a life that is as plain and worn as the sleeve of Steven's butler jacket. While the prose style kept this reader turning the pages I wondered what Stevens new employer, an American named Farraday, saw in this worn out man. Perhaps he saw the humanity that Stevens himself never found.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1989.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


What is piety? We find Socrates in this dialogue under indictment and on his way to the trial. He meets a prophet, Euthyphro, who claims to know the nature of piety and plans to prosecute his father for murder of a slave.
The lines are drawn and we are presented with several definitions of piety as Euthyphro attempts to deal with Socrates' questioning. Do we get a definition that works? No, but we find the struggle itself is one that defines the dilemma of the limits of our knowledge, Humility and respect for these limits are the gifts bestowed to the attentive reader - Euthyphro leaves unbowed.

Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo by Plato. G. M. A. Grube, trans. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis. 2002.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Misanthrope

The spirit of Moliere was alive at the Theater on the Lake yesterday evening. Thanks to a lively and talented production of The Misanthrope by Greasy Joan and Co., we were treated to an evening of witty dialogue and outrageously over-the-top comedic performances.
All of which led to contagious laughter that erupted throughout the audience all night. First, credit must go to the genius of Moliere who, when presented with the requisite verve and thespian expertise, still inspires audiences more than three hundred years after his death. Secondly, and no less important the production depended on the direction of Libby Ford and the acting of the whole troupe, but especially the central couple of Kate Cares as Celimene and Kevin Cox (who recently has been performing in an outstanding production of Macbeth - what a breadth of acting skill he has!) as Alceste. The supporting cast was excellent also in moving the comedic action forward to ever greater heights. Of particular note was both the comic pacing and excellent diction of the entire cast in their presentation of the poetic English translation. The evening provided a welcome respite from some of heavier dramatic fare I have been attending in recent months.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Oedipal Cinema

Savage Grace
a film directed by Tom Kalin
"One of the uses of money is that it allows us not to live with the consequences of our mistakes." - Antony Baekeland
One of the current films at the Landmark Century Cinema is an adaptation of a true story titled Savage Grace. This is the story of the beautiful and charismatic Barbara Daly (played convincingly by Julianne Moore, whose performance in Far From Heaven was one of the best I have ever seen), who married above her class to Brooks Baekeland (searingly portrayed by Stephen Dillane), heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune.
The film, based on the book by Natalie Robins,  is narrated by Eddie Redmayne playing the role of their only child Antony; he is a failure in his father's eyes, and as he matures he develops gradually from a beautiful boy with doting mother to handsome young homosexual whose escapades do not receive his mother's approval. She attempts to cure him with disastrous consequences as he slowly slides into madness, a separate universe of his own making (interesting ironic touch in his use of 'backwards writing' in his journal modeled after Leonardo da Vinci). The film documents both the oedipal struggles of young Eddie alongside his father's weakness as a man incapable of handling what remained of the family fortune. Through it all Barbara seems on the edge balanced between both unfulfilled erotic and artistic dreams. The director, Tom Kalin, effectively portrays the world of the wealthy who manage to elegantly while away their life doing nothing. It is a thought provoking film for those who ponder the state of oedipal desires at the end of the twentieth century.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Taste of Honey

Still exciting fifty years after its London debut in 1958, A Taste of Honey by Shelegh Delaney is a gritty realistic drama that must have truly been dynamite on the stage in the fifties. I still remember the stir created by the film adaptation of this drama touching on issues of premarital sex, interracial marriage and homosexuality that was released three years later. It was partly my memory of this film that encouraged me to explore the current production by Shattered Globe Theatre.
Centering on the tumultuous relationship of daughter and mother, Jo and Helen, the play chronicles the events of about a year in their lives. The production last night was excellent in spite of minor technical problems that, fortunately, did not detract from the fine acting. I particularly enjoyed the lead performances of Linda Reiter as Helen (I have fond memories of her past performances in Suddenly, Last Summer and Arcadia); Helen Sadler as Jo, who was convincing in her search for love; and Kevin Viol as Geof, whose character brought some touching tenderness into Jo's life. Shattered Globe's production at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater is a worthy revival of this now classic drama from the fifties.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Seldom does Socrates meet his match when engaging in dialogue, but Protagoras is able to hold his own once he decides to engage Socrates rather than orate. This occurs following the encouragement of Alcibiades when they take up the question of virtue and its constituent parts (349b-354e).
When pressed by Socrates to admit that "the most confident are the most courageous" and thus that wisdom is courage, Protagoras makes a stand and reminds Socrates that "When I was asked if the courageous are confident, I agreed. I was not asked if the confident are courageous. If you had asked me that, I would have said, 'Not all of them.'" (350c) The typical word games that lead most of Socrates' interlocutors to their doom are not enough to trap Protagoras. Earlier in the dialogue Protagoras seems to view the event as a 'contest' and while Socrates does not share that view, it does seem that during this interchange it is a reasonable view that the participants are somewhat evenly matched.
Protagoras had previously briefly succeeded in persuading Socrates to engage in poetic interpretation (339a-349a). That attempt ended in a demonstration of the difficulties in determining the truth when the speaker (in this case the Poet) was not present. The return to the dialogue offered more success through engaging in the dialectical method. However, we still did not seem to be making much progress toward an answer to the question of whether virtue is teachable.

Protagoras by Plato. Stanley Lombardo & Karen Bell, trans. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis. 1992.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Pudd'nhead Wilson

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. - Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

Mark Twain wrote four books featuring the Mississippi River and based in part on his home town of Hannibal, Missouri. Among these is what some consider the greatest American novel, Huckleberry Finn; also Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi; but the last and least read of the four is a comic gem, Pudd'nhead Wilson. Twain was always fascinated by themes of twin hood and exchanged identity. Earlier in his career he wrote a fantasy, The Prince and the Pauper, that was a favorite of mine in my youth and explores the theme of exchanged identity. But in 1894, twelve years after that novel and ten years after Huckleberry Finn, he returned to the Mississippi with publication of The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins. The book was published at a low point in his personal and business life as he succumbed to personal bankruptcy upon his return from a trip to Paris in that year having previously suffered a bout with pneumonia (in 1892) while his family was also ailing. The comic inspiration of Pudd'nhead Wilson betrays none of these travails but adds to the reputation of Twain the great American humorist.

Last night I enjoyed a dramatic adaptation of this novel produced by City Lit Theater. Terry McCabe and Brian Pastor, the Artistic and Managing Directors, respectively, of City Lit adapted the novel for the stage and Terry McCabe directed it. The performance was engaging especially in conveying the humor and wit of Twain's novel. I particularly enjoyed the Italian twins, played by Dan Howard and Craig J. Newman, who demonstrated timing and ability to create humorous moments that for brief moments literally 'stole the show'. The difficult central roles of Wilson and Tom (Kingsley Day and Ehren Fournier, respectively) were also handled extremely well. Overall it was a delightful evening of theater buoyed by the wit of Mark Twain and the production of City Lit Theater.