The Booklog

Friday, February 01, 2002

1/8/02: Andre Gide, Corydon. Supposedly a defense of homosexuality, actually (albeit unintentionally) a defense of male domination and slavery. (Animals do it! The Greeks did it! It must be good!) A good reminder of how hideous the terms of moral debate were in the pre-WWI era. "Natural law" is taken to mean "what animals do" or "what people want to do."

1/2/02: William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, and Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. These two hellacious books both concern journeys across a blasted American landscape; both use shuddering, perfect prose to describe blood and filth. Both feature buzzards. The King Lear-like AILD is far superior. The ferocious matriarch's monologue is consistently and terrifyingly Gnostic--a rejection of the world, language, and the possibility of love. McCarthy's book is worth reading, but his attempts at philosophy seemed confused (unlike Faulkner's difficult but rigorous thinking), and his language overblown.
Both books also shared two themes, or obsessions, that may distinguish American literature from other national literatures: murder, and the Christian God. (Nobody's actually murdered in AILD, but if you read it I think you'll see my point.) Emily Dickinson, Nathanael West, etc., are Dostoyevskyan in their concerns. I'd be interested in comments on other American authors, and comparisons to other literary traditions--as far as I know, France and England don't have comparable murder-and-Jesus canons, and Dostoyevsky is an anomaly among Russians. But I really can't speak with authority on this.

Rebecca Brown, The Terrible Girls. A lush, resentful little book full of linked parables about love and betrayal between women. Brown sometimes uses class as a metaphor for the power differences brought on by love--the one who loves more is a pawn of the one who loves less. It's not clear whether, in her stories of furious self-sacrifice, she acknowledges that even a self-sacrificing lover can be selfish, enthralled by the image of herself as martyr rather than concerned for her beloved's well-being. Nonetheless, this book is well worth your time.

Pat Cadigan, Mindplayers. A hard-boiled, episodic sci-fi novel about the future of identity. In a world where people buy and sell memories, personalities, even neuroses, how can we tell who we really are? Cadigan roams into Walker Percy territory: Why do we want to be other people? Why do we desperately seek out an identity? And Mindplayers' presentation of marriage and divorce had startling echoes of Maggie Gallagher's excellent The Abolition of Marriage. The plot demonstrates, I suspect unwittingly, that marriage reinforces our sense of self while divorce disrupts it. The many references to the narrator's divorce build up to a very "pro-marriage" plot twist. This is a tough, compassionate book, with a lot of insight into human nature, identity, and relationships.
posted by Eve 2:09 PM

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Stuff I've said about stuff I've read.