Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dusty Answer - Rosamond Lehmann
I was overwhelmed by the deluge of emotions pouring out of the main character. So many words about so many complex and shifting states of mind! This hypersensitive teenage girl is neighbor to an assembly of young people. Older than her, they exert a strong influence; they strike her as extraordinarily beautiful, or tortured, or mysterious – or something else dramatic. When Judith goes to college she meets a beautiful and fascinating female student, and they’re immediately attracted to each other. Judith keeps ties with the neighbors, one of whom is the enigmatic and elusive Rodney. Though Judith loves Jennifer, she also loves Rodney, who’s a homosexual. And so it goes. I read this book (or, rather, I read half of it) because I liked Lehmann’s The Ballad and the Source so much. But Dusty Answer was the author’s first novel, written when she was twenty-six; Lehmann wrote Ballad when she was forty-three. Ballad deals in extremes too, but it had discipline and was grounded on the periphery of real life. No doubt the success of Dusty Answer was due, in large part, to its taboo subject matter. But it’s an immature and emotionally chaotic book, one that over-romanticizes the world.

Casanova’s Homecoming - Arthur Schnitzler (German)
Casanova at age fifty-three is a shabby remnant of the handsome and dashing seducer of women. His fame is remembered only by those of his own age. Though full of self-delusion, Casanova also reluctantly recognizes that, with the passing of time, he’s facing dissolution in all its forms. This short novel focuses on his efforts to possess a young woman who feels nothing but contempt and disgust for him. Casanova achieves his goal by paying money to her lover; disguised as that young man, he spends the night with Marcolina. To me, this was a preposterous plot device. Yet Schnitzler uses it as a means to an end. Throughout the book Casanova is fleetingly visited by images that have the mystery and weight of symbols; during his night with Marcolina he’s submerged completely in an ominous dream world. What this all means, I can’t say, but the novel gives off a disturbing sense of moral putrefaction.

Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
These stories (with one notable exception) are mere fluff. Their lack of substance can be partially attributed to the fact that Fitzgerald was in his mid-twenties when he wrote them (only his early work appears in this collection). What’s perplexing is that he was paid top dollar for these inanities; his popularity doesn’t reflect favorably on the reading public in the Roaring Twenties. An academic wrote the introduction; in his lavish praise the word “wit” appears a number of time. Now that’s funny. Fitzgerald shows no sense of humor, no intellectual sharpness; the mind that concocted these stories was a juvenile and frivolous one. Okay, the exception: “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is excellent. But after struggling through five pages of the incredibly stupid “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” I refused to go on. Maybe there was something else as good as “Bernice,” but I had no stomach to pursue it.

No comments: