Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jack of Diamonds - Elizabeth Spencer
Just connect, said Forster. For me, Spencer doesn’t. In “The Cousins” – which went on forever – I was annoyed, impatient and unengaged. I finished it because Spencer writes beautifully. Yet her work skates on an immaculately smooth surface. Passion – and other emotions – are under that surface; they’re politely suggested. Not that I need a writer to get “down and dirty.” But I do need more of a flesh and blood world than Spencer provides. In a story like “The Business Venture” she came close to breaking through the invisible barrier she works behind. But (another analogy) reading most of these stories is like being at a lady’s outdoor tea party. The lawn is beautifully manicured; there are no weeds and no snake.

Life with Father - Clarence Day
A sweet and engaging book, despite the fact that Father is a tyrant (and a lot of other bad things). Still, I liked him, partly because he is what he is in plain view, the world be damned. Also coming into sharp focus is the mother. The author himself – the boy/young man Clarence – tells about his parents in a voice that’s the key to the book’s success. Clarence is likable and funny and a sharp observer. He’s also wise in keeping the book short – it couldn’t hold up under the weight of another fifty pages. In each episode Day tells enough, keeps it fresh, and then it’s over. Fine and fun reading.

The Pillar of Salt - Albert Memmi (French)
An autobiographical novel that follows the author’s intellectual development. This is a narcissistic endeavor, but Memmi is such a rebel that it’s interesting to see him abandon accepted values (God, family, country). Of course, at the end this leaves him with nothing. The section covering his youth was stronger than the last part; it had more atmosphere and the parents were vividly portrayed. When the adult Memmi was on his own, his introspection got a bit tiresome. Also, I began to question his honesty; the parts dealing with sexual matters and his war experiences rang false. A last note: this is an interesting social and historical document, particularly regarding the relationship between Jews and Moslems.

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