Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Spider’s House - Paul Bowles
This should be required reading for anyone wanting to understand the Moslem mind. Young Amar is a wonderful character – replete with flaws, but real. While one can relate to him, his way of thinking in some important aspects is just plain different from that of a Westerner, and Bowles captures that difference extremely well. This, and the exotic atmosphere of Morocco, are the main virtues of the book. Bowles is less successful with his two Americans – the prose gets verbose and there’s too much thinking of deep thoughts. The sudden “romance” that flares up between Stenham and Lee was pure baloney. She hates his guts (the reader can understand why) and then suddenly, with no good reason, she’s madly in love with him. Motivation is missing! The author couldn’t follow up on his own reversal – there’s not one intimate scene between the two. Bowles, despite all the talent in the world, always managed to botch things up, usually in his endings. However, this time the last chapter is strong. And, as I said, Amar is wonderful and the cultural/political issues this novel explores are relevant today.

The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud
I had greater respect for Malamud before I read this collection. Many stories are mediocre, some are downright bad – sloppy, pointless. He experiments with the bizarre quite often – always unsuccessfully. And his crudity in handling sex was hard to stomach. “The Magic Barrel” is still magic, and stories that capture the life of the small Jewish shop owner are good; but, all in all, this is a big disappointment.

Goodbye, Columbus - Philip Roth
The title novella introduced a writer with a bright, fresh voice. Roth captures the glow of young love – no easy task. One needs to create an appealing female character, and Roth definitely does that in the person of Brenda Patimkin. I liked her better than the conflicted Neil. There’s humor in this book (much of it provided by the colorful Patimkin clan) and it doesn’t have a boring page. Faults? The ending – I thought Roth sabotaged the affair with the business about the diaphragm (a case of the author tinkering with a plot line to achieve a goal). I also never believed that Neil was going to be a librarian, mainly because I took Neil to be Roth. It was Roth who was putting a bittersweet end to his summer love affair so that he could move on to bigger things. The novella is accompanied by five stories. None are totally successful. “Eli, the Fanatic” is a mess, floundering on much too long; it needed severe editing. Roth includes Jewishness as part of all the work in the book, but especially in the shorter pieces, where it’s at the core; I think this narrows and detracts. The stories are little more than padding – it’s Goodbye, Columbus that matters. *


kmoomo said...

"Goodbye, Columbus" -What an enjoyable read! I certainly agree that Roth captures the glow of young love and that never is there a boring page. I also found Neil conflicted, but to me, that also provided much of the humor of the story. I felt I was 'swimming' along in the swift current of their relationship and felt totally left out to dry when it ended so abruptly. It WAS the only fault of the novella as far as I'm concerned. I don't think Brenda would have had that reaction to the letter, nor do I think Neil would have moved on so readily. I think I was sadder than either of them when it was over (the relationship and the story). I then tried reading the other five stories in the book and once again agree with you. It is unecessary padding. I made it through "The Conversion of Jews" and "Epstein" (which of the bunch were the best), but simply could not force myself to finish the others. After such a treat as "Goodbye, Columbus" they were just pure letdown.

Phillip Routh said...

Yes, why are we left feeling sadder than the two characters (especially Neil)?
Because Roth was an autobiographical writer, maybe Neil's hollow response to the end of the affair says something about Philip Roth.
I explore that angle more in my essay at Tapping on the Wall ("Philip Roth's First and Last").
Goodbye, Columbus won the Pulitzer Prize. Quite a debut.