Friday, February 20, 2004

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

A book of short stories, many written in the second person, assigned to me for one of the creative writing classes I took in college. Some are funny, some are sad, some are funny and sad, most try to be funny and sad. “What is Seized” is probably the best, although my memory of one of my creative writing teachers is always pushing “To Fill” on me. "What Is Seized" is about a woman whose parents divorced dealing with the death of her mother and their bitterness toward her father.

Cold men destroy women. They woo them with something personable that they bring out for show, something annexed to their souls like a fake greenhouse, lead you in, and you think you see life and vitality and sun and greenness, and then when you love them, they lead you out into their real soul, a drafty, cavernous, empty ballroom, inexorably arched and vaulted and mocking you with its echoes—you hear all you have sacrificed, all you have given, landing with a loud clunk. They lock the greenhouse and you are as tiny as a figure in an architect’s drawing, a faceless splotch, a blur of stick limbs abandoned in some voluminous desert of stone.

If my wife read that, I wonder how much she would think it applies to our relationship. Another good one is “How to Become a Writer,” if for nothing else for these priceless reminders from creative writing class. But does it work? Why should we care about this character? Have you earned this cliché?

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

I think this is Faulkner’s first book and there were parts I actually liked. I know, I know, Faulkner is supposed to be everyone’s favorite American author, but I always have a hard time getting into his books. The way he writes, it’s like nothing sinks in, it just kind of skims across the surface. I’m not sure I liked this book so much as I like the book it could have been. Donald Mahon comes back wounded, scarred, and dying from World War I and the buzz of small town life goes on its merry way around him, oblivious to the fact that the war has changed him. Small town life even tries to ensnare him in its petty machinations and does not notice in its self-absorption that he has become something outside of it and has grown beyond its influence. That’s the book I wanted this to be. There was some of that in there, but not enough for my tastes.

And that is already the curse of our civilization—Things, Possessions, to which we are slaves, which require us to either labor honestly as least eight hours a day or do something illegal so as to keep them painted or dressed in the latest mode or filled with whisky or gasoline.

Saturday, February 7, 2004

Hannibal by Ross Leckie

This is a historical novel written from the point of view of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who took elephants and an army across the Alps in the wintertime in an attempt to conquer Rome. It was a good read. One of the things that comes out quite starkly in the book is how violent and perverse the society of the powerful in Hannibal’s time was. Hannibal himself had had enough people impaled in order to know how to do it so the person would die slowly or die quickly. Hannibal’s father had given his 14-year-old daughter away in a political marriage, only to have her die of an infection caused by her husband stuffing her vagina full of ripe plums to provide a more sensuous cavity for his penis. Crucifixion was a regular punishment for cowardice or failure in battle and prisoners were routinely beheaded or buried alive. After the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C., in which Hannibal wiped out an entire Roman army by allowing his line to bend in on itself, creating a concave pocket in which to trap his opponents with his cavalry, Hannibal had the hands cut off all the Roman corpses and sent back to Rome to show them the damage he had done. When the hands of the dead did not add up to a full legion, he had an appropriate number cut from the living prisoners to round out the group, and then forced the mutilated men to haul the tribute back to Rome themselves.