My Blog List

  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Friday, January 25, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

Hotel Du Lac
Anita Brookner

Anita Brookner is the master of the quiet moment, of the invisible psychological turning-points upon which the course of entire lives depend and change forever. Outwardly, nothing, or, at most, very little, ever happens in her novels. This is the key to her realism. In real life, the revolutions are interior; often what changes us most radically happens in the private moments that no one ever witnesses, a result of the thoughts, reflections, and dreams that occur by necessity when we are most alone, closest to our true selves.

It is in describing the life of the solitary that Brookner most excels. In "Hotel Du Lac" she does this through the character of Edith Hope. Edith is an English writer of old-fashioned romance novels who, having committed an all-too-non-fictional romantic gaffe, has agreed to a period of semi-voluntary exile at a fashionably unfashionable lakeside hotel in Switzerland. Here she hopes to recover her equilibrium  and her dignity after an unsettling love affair with a married man and a broken wedding date with another that she accepted as consolation.  

Ironically, Edith is not ironic about the romance in the novels that she pens. As a woman, she is something of an anachronism in a modern world turned cynical in its attitudes towards romantic love. At the hotel, among its largely female guests, she meets a man who singles her out as a prime candidate for what he considers an ultra-modern, ultra-liberated, ultra-practical "arrangement" of mutual benefit. It is, Edith realizes, a tempting offer; perhaps the best and last that will come her way. Whether she accepts or not will determine not only the course of her future but define her character. Does she amend the errors of her romantic illusions and take the offer, which would appeal to any truly modern woman? Or does Edith reaffirm her romantic convictions, even if a happy ending isn't in the plot for her?

It is the coming of Edith's personal, private apocalypse that gives "Hotel Du Lac" its tension and its drama and that makes it a riveting read. Its climax isn't so much explosive, as it is detonative. It shakes one at the deepest, albeit quietest levels. One reads Brookner and realizes only belatedly how much one has been shaken up and rearranged. She affects one without showy spectacle, but at one's very foundations.     

Memorable Lines:

"It is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market. Hares have no time to read. They are too busy winning the game. The propaganda goes all the other way, but only because it is the tortoise who is in need of consolation. Like the meek who are going to inherit the earth."

"If one is prepared to do the one thing one is drilled out of doing from earliest childhood--simply please oneself--there is no reason why one should ever be unhappy again."

"With some people, the shadow of their death precedes them; they lose hope, appetite, viability. They feel the meaning of their lives draining away, and they recognize that they have lost, or never attained, their heart's desire, and they give up. In the eyes of such people one reads dreadful recognition, the ultimate self-knowledge: I have not lived enough and it is too late to redeem myself. "

"It occurs to me that some women close ranks because they hate men and fear them. I'm not talking about the feminists. I can understand their position, although I'm not all that sympathetic to it. I'm talking about the ultra-feminine. I'm talking about the complacent consumers of men with their complicated but unwritten rules of what is due to them. Treats. Indulgences. Privileges. The right to make illogical fusses. The cult of themselves. Such women strike me as dishonorable. And terrifying. I think perhaps that men are an easier target. I think perhaps the feminists should take a fresh look at the situation."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

The Peaceable Kingdom
Francine Prose

This collection consists of eleven stories. In them, Prose writes of common lives and ordinary people in a straightforward, plain-spoken, but not inelegant style. These stories primarily deal with relationships--marriage, adultery, divorce--but they also consider the trials of growing up, both as children and adults in the face of loss, illness, and death. What Prose reveals are the sudden sinkholes, the dark undertows, the hidden trapdoors in the everyday that pull us into a direct, if often brief, confrontation with the cold, the alien, the inhuman. It is in these moments that her characters change, grow, recoil. Prose shows that our normal lives aren't so "normal," but more like a pretty wallpaper covering truths we often don't suspect, and, even if we do, don't really want to see. Her quiet stories don't shatter with total revelation, don't force us to stare at the naked horror, but offer instead disturbing peeks behind the paper that invariably leave her characters--and her readers--changed. 

Memorable lines:

"You assume you will ask the important questions, you will get to them sooner or later, an idea that ignores two things: the power of shyness, the fact of death."

"I had a vision of people pulling at each other, and of the people who loved them letting them slip through their hands and almost liking the silky feel of them sliding through their fingers."

"What I wanted to say was this: that my father had been wrong about El Greco, that if something was straight and you saw it curved, you would actually paint it straight; your hand would correct what your eye had seen wrong, so it finally came out right. Then the objects in your painting would appear to you just as everything always did--distorted, buckled, and curved. But anyone else who looked at it would see what you never saw--a perfect likeness of the world, the world as it really was."

"Doug, our therapist, said I was out of touch with my feelings. He sent us an article, from a women's magazine, about a guy who was eating dinner one night and started hemorrhaging from the throat. Three operations, a repaired major blood vessel, and two years of therapy later, he realized that all his emotions had been locked here, in his throat. Now he expresses them more. When I read that, I thought: He was already expressing them in his own way." 

"I wondered how often the future waits on the other side of the wall, knocking very quietly, too politely for us to hear, and I was filled with longing to reach back into my life and inform that unhappy girl: all around her was physical evidence proving her sorrows would end. I wanted to tell her that she would be saved, but not by an act of will: clever Gretel pretending she couldn't tell if the oven was hot and tricking the witch into showing her and shoving the witch into the oven. What would rescue her was time itself and, above all, its inexorability, the utter impossibility of anything ever staying the same.
      But to have even tried to tell her would be like rising up out of the interrupting the opera to comfort or warn the singers: Don't worry, there is no journey, no one is going away, there is nothing to fear but your own true love, disguised as an Albanian."

Friday, January 18, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

W.G. Sebald

A collection of four obliquely linked narratives, each a description of a journey over roughly the same terrain, but undertaken at different times, past and present. Stendhal makes an appearance along the way, as do Casanova and Kafka. Images recur, as do certain events, although in different contexts and with slight variations in detail. The result is a dreamy, hypnotic, almost stream-of-consciouness style, allusive, elusive, and elliptical that seems as much the subject of "Vertigo" as does anything that actually happens in the novel. Sebald depicts a way of experiencing the world that is as poetic as it is disorienting as it is addictive. The "vertigo" of the title refers to the dizzying sensation one has when the past one remembers is not verified by the facts as they appear at present. One stands at the edge of the gap between the two and stares down into an abyss. Is everything, then, even the events of our own lives, truly unknowable? If so, Sebald seems to suggest that the best way to deal with this otherwise terrifying uncertainty is to drift through life as on an endless voyage, holding on to nothing too fiercely, letting it all flow past like the scenery in a train window.    

Memorable lines:

"Casanova likened a lucid mind to a glass, which does not break of its own accord. Yet how easily it is shattered. One wrong move is all that it takes."

"The more images I gathered from the past the more unlikely it seemed to me that the past had actually happened in this or that way, for nothing about it could be called normal: most of it was absurd, and if not absurd, then appalling."

=eyeball on january=

Friday, January 11, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

Leaving Home
Anita Brookner

Like a biologist preparing slides, Brookner dissects subtle psychological states with a Proustian precision. Her resultant character studies are both aesthetically and philosophically illuminating. In "Leaving Home," she turns her scrutinizing eye on a dependent young woman teetering on the verge of an uncertain adulthood. 

Emma comes to realize that if she doesn't leave home soon she'll never leave. She will end up her mother's companion, her caretaker, and finally taking her mother's place altogether, replicating her reclusive, spinsterish life.  It is more the fear of this fate than it is any love of the subject or the scholarly life that inspires her to go to Paris to study classic garden design. But although she has successfully escaped one home Emma can't find the more suitable home she's always imagined would one day replace it. Instead, Emma finds that it is in the transitory state between "homes" that she feels most at home. Likewise, she finds herself only "at home" in relationships that provide companionship while maintaining distance and reserve. She comes to understand that her growth as an individual seems to depend on her facing the challenges that cannot be avoided when one leaves the safety, security and familiarity of home.  

Memorable lines:

"It was, paradoxically, the knowledge that one had voluntarily cut oneself off from one's roots that brought about the liberating courage to persist, to seek one's continuity in those who followed a similar trajectory."

"I prefer my gardens deserted, on misty mornings, at unpopular times of the year, compelling in their silence and their secrecy."

"I am more or less comfortable, more or less contented. Not everyone is born to fulfill an heroic role. The only realistic ambition is to live in the present. And sometimes, quite often in fact, this is more than enough to keep one busy. Time, which was once squandered, must now be given over to the actual, the possible, and perhaps to that evanescent hope of a good outcome which never deserts one, and which should never be abandoned."

Monday, January 7, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

Living by Fiction   
Annie Dillard

In this volume of linked essays, Annie Dillard attempts an apologia for fiction and mounts an impassioned argument for its importance in our lives. She traces the technical and thematic influences of the great modernist writers of the early 20th century on  contemporary modernist writers (her term for postmodernists). She also draws illuminating distinctions not only between fine writing and popular "junk" fiction but between traditional fine writing and contemporary modernist fine writing. What she ends up showing more than anything else is that there isn't any clear, absolute demarcations between these different types of writing; rather, there are gradations along a continuum. 

Perhaps Dillard's most startling and original argument is the one she makes when asserting that  literature and the critical response that grows up around it may actually provide a more valid and solid basis for us to experience meaning and interpret the world than scientific inquiry into physical phenomenon. The fiction writer selects, reshapes, re-orders and re-interprets the world around her. The literary critic examines this "fictional" but nonetheless actual artifact and interprets it anew. And so do we, each of us, as readers every time we pick up a text.

Memorable lines and passages:

"There is no epistemological guarantee between any subject and any object. It could be, even, that tests are a great deal more accessible to knowledge than other objects. At least we do not dispute that texts exist. Even when general debate stretches to the point where we doubt (or feign to doubt) that the world out there exists, any of it, we seldom if ever find our epistemological panic focused on the issue of texts."

"Narrative is a side effect of the prose. Prose "secretes" the book...Prose is a kind of cognitive tool which secretes its objects--as though a set of tools were to create the very engines it could enter."

"A traditional fine writer handles his prose as a painterly painter handles paint--with it he describes, beautifully and suggestively, an object in the world. The object shapes the medium. By contrast, contemporary modernist fine writers wield their prose more aggressively. Their prose is not so much a descriptive tool as an end in itself. They fabricate a prose impressionist and refracting, or moodily expressionistic, or fragmented, cryptic, and surreal."

"All mental activity is selective and interpretive; all language is interpretative; all perception is interpretative; all expression is interpretative. And all interpretations miss their mark or invent it, make it up. Humanity has but one product, and that is fiction."

"Fiction is no more interpretative than any other mental product such as eyesight or gossip. It is merely more fictive."

Friday, January 4, 2013

=2013 Books Read=

The All of It   
Jeannette Haien

As he stands by a river in a miserable rain, a salmon-fishing priest reflects on the "confession" of a recently widowed woman. Her revelation that her husband of nearly fifty years was really her brother and the special circumstances that caused the pair to live so long a lie causes Father Declan de Loughry to re-examine his conventional notions of sin, guilt, and redemption. It also causes him to re-examine his own human need for companionship. 

Short, spare, and beautifully written, The All of It was Haien's first novel, a deceptively simple, but emotionally powerful tale, published when she was in her 60s. She would go on to publish one more novel.

Memorable lines:

"Every decent-hearted angler knows that tomorrow's rewards are kindled by today's disappointment's."  

"One thing I've learned, Father--that in this life it's best to keep the then and the now and the what's-to-be as close together in your thoughts as you can. It's when you let gaps creep in, when you separate out the intervals and dwell on them, that you can't bear the sorrow."

"There's benefaction in closing off vision: with your eyes shut you're disobliged from keeping the show going for yourself or anyone else."