Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bloodshed and Three Novellas - Cynthia Ozick
“A Mercenary” is about Jerzy Kosinski (someone Ozick surely knew), so it interested me. I both admired and was annoyed by the labyrinth approach to narrative and the ornate style; but, since the point Ozick makes about Kosinski was inconclusive, annoyance won out. In “Bloodshed” (the blood being shed is that of Jews) the intricacies of the prose reached Byzantium proportions. “An Education” was simply written, in keeping with the characters, who are simpletons. What was Ozick up to in creating a story about highly-educated dummies? My suspicion is that she was ridiculing people she knew. I read a few pages of the last novella, but it was going to take a lot of effort, which I wasn’t about to expend. Ozick is a writer with a threefold agenda: to show off her verbal skills, to explore the Jewish experience, and to settle scores.

The Night Visitor and Other Stories - B. Traven
I chose not to reread the title novella; I’ll let that chilling nightmare remain intact in my memory. The other stories are good (or pretty good; none are very good). Traven’s characters have an engaging voice, he tells a story well, and he makes a point. His flaws are that he’s heavy-handed and often lets scenes go on too long (though this is part of his rambling, conversational style). He was a man who had a wide variety of life experiences; I believe that the authenticity of “The Cattle Drive” comes from Traven’s having actually been on a cattle drive. I was disappointed with the long final story, “Macario.” It could have been special, but Traven didn’t have a handle on where he was going; its lack of logic became a problem. “The Night Visitor” also lacked logic, but what occurs seemed to be dictated by a cryptic inevitability. That novella is the main reason – and a good one – to take up this collection. *

Nineteen Nineteen - John Dos Passos
This social protest novel isn’t locked into one time period because it’s made up of character studies that are universal. Dos Passos was able to capture the essence of a wide spectrum of the American population. He does this by straightforward narration; the reader accompanies people through the events of their lives, and through accretion we come to believe in and understand them. Even a life that’s boring and confusing – as is the case with Eveline – has validity because we’re experiencing what she feels. Dos Passos was especially good with rough, uneducated, aimless young men – in this case Joe Williams. But the story that affected me the most was Daughter’s; seldom does a character created out of words get to me so deeply. I found the Camera Eye, Newsreel, and biography sections, done in an experimental style, to be speed bumps, but they enabled Dos Passos to present a panoramic view of the nation (and also to show how bad things were in this country during the WWI years). For what it accomplishes this novel is above criticism. It’s the second of the USA trilogy. I read the first volume (The 42nd Parallel) forty years go; I remember thinking highly of it. So why the long wait? *

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