Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian)
Dostoevski deals with the essentials of life, particularly with moral questions. Since he wanted to communicate with the common man, he presents his ideas in a straightforward way. On the most basic level, he entertains – we want to know what happens next. He can surprise, he uses ambiguity, he writes with passion. He gives the devil his due – literally; the evil side of man is on full display. Nobody, good or bad, is treated superficially. One problem is the operatic level of the emotions. Sometimes characters come across as fanatics, hysterics. Maybe the Russian personality is prone to extremes (also, the events these people are involved in would produce intense emotions). The ending leaves much unresolved. Yet The Speech at the Stone is so strong and encompassing that, when it’s over, all is completed. *

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning - Alan Sillitoe
This look at the British working class rings true. Arthur Seaton stands solid at the center of the novel. He has so many faults that I rather disliked him. This presents a problem for a novelist, who needs a sympathetic reader. Ultimately, what wins out is the factor of honesty – okay, I decided, that’s Arthur, take him or leave him; whatever, he’s real. Sillitoe’s writing flows nicely, particularly the naturalistic dialogue. Besides the swaggering Arthur, we have an equally strong female, Brenda; when Doreen arrives, I felt that she was a weak link, but as Arthur gets more serious about her she takes on substance. All in all, an engrossing, thoughtful and rebellious book. One nagging flaw has to do with plausibility. Arthur and Brenda (a married woman) carry on their long term affair with little effort to conceal it; though he gets the beating he deserves, it comes awfully late in the game. Is her husband a fool, and are people so reluctant to gossip? Still, as Arthur likes to say, It’s a great life if you don’t weaken. *

Home Free - Dan Wakefield
In the opening pages a college student (Gene) and his young professor (Lou) have sex after a few lines of dialogue. I could never free the character of Lou from the easy lay she was. Gene seems equally shallow, and a weakling to boot; I didn’t respect him. Wakefield tries to recreate the aura of that time in life when you’re in love, have dreams etc., but it doesn’t come off. Gene and Lou’s friends are no more than colorful fabrications (the “Coaches” fall flat). At the point of the inevitable breakup and its effect on Gene, I stopped reading. I didn’t care.

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