Month: June 2014

Book Review – The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

             It takes a true master of the craft to write a book about one character in a solitary setting. It takes an even better one to do so and to still keep the reader riveted through the entire story. It takes a virtual genius to do this with a story about fishing. Ernest Hemingway accomplished all of these feats in his classic The Old Man and the Sea.  For just such an achievement, the book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. The Nobel Prize Committee cited it by name when awarding the novelist that prestigious honor.

            While all of the above provide great reasons to read The Old Man and the Sea, the narrative itself serves as the primary purpose. Hemingway related an exceptional story regarding a man’s courageous struggle in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I interpret the tale as a metaphor for life. One passage read, “’Man is not made for defeat,’ he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’” (Page 103) While the protagonist reflected on what prevented him from achieving his goal he observed, “’Nothing,’ he said aloud. ‘I went out too far.’” (Page 120)

            In addition to the inspiring message, I also enjoyed Hemingway’s use of language. “The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.” (Page 13) I’m struggling to visualize this one, but I like the creativity. My favorite passage came when the old man prayed for help catching the fish. Hemingway wrote out the Hail Mary then had his protagonist add at the end, “’Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this fish. Wonderful though he is.’” (Page 65) I thought that an interesting thought on an adversary one asked for divine help in murdering.

            It’s quite a challenge to wax philosophical about fishing. I applauded Hemingway’s ability to do so in this book. The excerpt below provides the best example.   

I have no understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in it. Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish. I suppose it was even though I did it to keep me alive and feed many people. But then everything is a sin. Do not think about sin. It is much too late for that and there are many people who are paid to do it. Let them think about it. You were born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a fish. San Pedro was a fisherman as was the father of the great DiMaggio.

But he liked to think about all things that he was involved in since there was nothing to read and he did not have a radio, he thought much and he kept on thinking about sin. You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more? (Page 105)

I never thought I’d see someone try to frame an epistemological paradigm for fishing. I have to give Mr. Hemingway kudos. Once more, he displayed great ingenuity.

            I mentioned earlier that I enjoyed the author’s creative uses of language in the book. I thought in some of the passages Hemingway’s muse “went fishing”, so to speak. As readers, no doubt, caught in the passage above, it contained a number of superfluous uses of to. My biggest issue concerned the myriad appearances of the word was throughout the novella. As any writer knows, was is the “mother of all tell words.” Wherever it occurs the author should replace with active verbs. In my copy of the book, all six sentences in the paragraph from Page 30 leading to Page 31 contained the word. I was going to re-print it here, but I realized that was not the right thing to do.  See how annoying overuse of that word can be for readers?

            I would have to say that The Old Man and the Sea ranks among my all-time favorite books. As this July 2nd will mark the 63rd anniversary of Hemingway’s passing, I thought it a good time to read it again. I’m glad I did; every time I go through it I like it even more. What a tremendous inspirational story about one man’s adversity in the face of daunting obstacles that keep coming at him. While the book didn’t inspire me to take up fishing off the Cuban coast, it did make me want to check out more of the author’s work. But first I think I’ll go to sleep and dream about lions.


Book Review – The Double Tongue by William Golding

On the penultimate day of his life, as he did every day, Sir William Golding wrote in his journal. He expressed his plan to start revising the first draft of The Double Tongue the next day. Unfortunately, fate intervened and he passed without having the opportunity to do so. Let this be a lesson to all so-called “writers”. Golding wrote in his journal every day and planned on revising a novel the day of his death. I should also add that he lived to the age of 81. What’s your excuse for not writing, again?

In commemoration of the 21st anniversary of the author’s passing on June 19th I re-read The Double Tongue. As any fan of William Golding knows, every one of his novels is different. This one was certainly the most unique. I thought it a very interesting choice of topics to follow-up a sea trilogy. It presented the tale of a young lady, Arieka, who became the Pythia at a Delphic Temple.  The author set the novel in Ancient Greece at a time when it’s power declined as Rome’s ascended. The Point-of-View was first person from Arieka’s perspective. (Golding took a lot of criticism though out his career for not writing about female characters, so this approach marked quite a departure.) At the time he wrote this draft, Golding was an octogenarian. He deserves monumental credit for taking on a project like this at the literal conclusion of his life.

Many people know Golding from his first novel, Lord of the Flies. Many are surprised to discover it wasn’t his first book. His first published work was a book of poetry. The Double Tongue showed me that even in the twilight of his years he still possessed a poet’s gift for language. Even for a first draft, I found the text rich with poetic expressions. Some examples included: “They were just enough to remind me that women aren’t free, not even the free ones.” (Page 17) Another memorable line: “I think that in sleep with its dreams we are trying to rid ourselves of the rubbish of our minds.” (Page 33) I also found the following exceptional use of alliteration: “…I heard from that sun-drenched crowd before the portico a stricken and sudden silence.”

The novel did have its drawbacks, however. For one thing, I found it very heavy on dialog. I’m sure had Golding been able to revise he would’ve balanced it out with more narration.

There’s no greater indication of an author’s aptitude than to make a reader want more. The Double Tongue did so for the wrong reason. In my copy of the book I found a blurb that read, “A passage of the manuscript is missing at this point.” (Page 78) This leads to the inevitable question, is it fair to publish author’s unfinished works? (From my own experience, I didn’t find The Love of the Last Tycoon up to the standards of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s completed novels.) I think that the only way an author can prevent something from getting published posthumously is to throw the manuscript into the fire, a la Gogol. I thought The Double Tongue an entertaining and interesting read. As a hard-core William Golding fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so. It left me thinking that just maybe with a little more time Sir William’s last novel could have been his best.  


Book Review – Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis

Only an author with the caliber of Sinclair Lewis could make 1940’s Minnesota look like the Deep South of the 1860s. In his racially charged, Kingsblood Royal, he did just that. I remember hearing a story that someone invited him to his own lynching following the 1927 publication of Elmer Gantry. I think it fair to say Mr. Lewis didn’t increase his popularity when he wrote this piece twenty years later; certainly not in Minnesota.

            Kingsblood Royal painted a disturbing picture of a racially divided America during the Second World War. Lewis used a number of creative techniques to accomplish this. He set many of his earlier works in the fictitious state of Winnemac. This story took place in Lewis’ home state of Minnesota. It occurred in a fictional town called “Grand Republic”. The fact he selected a northern state not well known for racial strife really added to the emotional resonance of the story. The name of the town clarified the author’s intention the story be applicable to the nation as a whole.  

            I really enjoyed the action that spurred the narrative. Dr. Kingsblood asked his son to investigate the family history. As an amateur genealogist, I could relate. The doctor heard an old family tale that the Kinsgsbloods descended from British royalty. He asserted this made them the rightful heirs to the Throne, hence the surname.

Neil’s research uncovered a much different family history. At first he discovered that an ancestor married a Native American woman. While uncomfortable with that finding, he later determined the ancestor in question happened to be African-American. 

            Following this, Neil went on a personal voyage to understand what it was like to be an African-American man living in America. Keep in mind that Neil was only 1/32nd African-American. Under the laws of some states at the time of publication, that would’ve made him 100% African-American. The story centered on his internal debate over whether or not to reveal his discovery to his friends, family and coworkers. Lewis described this series of events with a uniqueness all his own.

            I would caution readers that this book contained a lot of language that a modern audience would consider offensive. I’d suspect it made a good portion of its 1940’s audience uncomfortable as well. The narration clearly exhibited Lewis’ abhorrence for racial bigotry. He chose the best means possible to get that across to his readers.

            It wouldn’t have been a Sinclair Lewis novel without quirky characters and raw satire. Lewis did an exceptional job of fusing the two in this book. I emphasize again that some of this language will make modern readers uncomfortable. I personally find any form of bigotry offensive. In the interest of textual integrity I shall share some of them. Here is his depiction of two men pondering whether or not Neil violated the terms of a restrictive covenant.

No, not yet, but everybody knew that it would, because everybody knew that all Negroes like this fellow (Neil Kingsblood) were unbathed and noisy, and while he, Mr. Stopple, had no prejudices, and neither had he, Mr. Eisenherz, still facts were facts. Weren’t they?

Bertie Eisenherz had been very fond of the mulatto mistress he had had for two years while he was with the legation in Portugal, and he was irritated by all this insular imbecility, but he needed the money, he always needed the money, for the maintenance of his precarious conviction that he was a great gentleman. And though he was devoted to his Renoir and his autographed set of Henry James, he was legitimately the grandson of Simon Eisenherz, the shrewdest and most resolute pilferer of Indian forest-land titles in Northern Minnesota. (Page 308)

Nice guys.

            Lewis’ best satirical portrayal showed shades of Elmer Gantry. This preacher added a dose of white supremacy to his hypocrisy.  

Among these latter-day Barnums of Grand Republic was one Jat Snood, who had not finished high school, but was a Doctor of Divinity. He was the owner and chief ballyhooer of a vast shed down on South Champlain Avenue and East Winchell Street, in the South End, and he had romantically named it “God’s Prophesy Tabernacle: Founded on the Book: Christ for All and All for Christ.”

It is true that the Reverend Doctor had never been able to stay in any one town for more than five years, because he knew only fifty sermons and fifty vaudeville tricks, and even his faded and gnarled and gum-chewing audiences got sick of him. But while it lasted, he did very well financially, because he titillated his crowds with ginger and hell-fire and made Swedish hired girls and German grocery-clerks and Yankee lineman feel that if they could not meet Hiram Sparrock at the Federal Club, they could meet God and His angels and the souls of the elect at God’s Prophesy Tabernacle: contributions voluntary (but frequent). Jat screamed at them, in high-toned polysyllables flavored with jazz and slang, that if they were ill-used by the snobs among old Americans, still they could be snobs themselves, and he invited them to look down, contemptuously, upon all Jews, Negroes, Catholics, and Socialists. (Page 159)

While I expected more proficient syntax from a Yale graduate, Lewis’ acerbic and amusing description allowed me to look past it.

            Kingsblood Royal is an underrated masterpiece in the Sinclair Lewis catalog. Who else could present a story about a Caucasian banker being victimized by Jim Crow Laws in Minnesota? Once again, the author presented a thoroughly troubling, yet entertaining depiction of the American experience’s darker side. While the some of the language will offend modern readers, Lewis used it in a manner that illustrated his personal contempt for the racial bigotry permeating society during the late 1940’s. It personalized the story for me. I could get a true emotional sense of what Neil experienced. Readers ignore the lessons of this tale at their peril.

Restaurant Review – The British Chip Shop

            I decided to commemorate my British heritage by taking a trip to Haddonfield, New Jersey. I did this not because the British occupied it  three times during the Revolutionary War, but rather to feast on some English cuisine. The Union Jack hanging outside the British Chip Shop on King’s Highway showed me I found the right place.

            I liked the homey feel of the décor. Solid red brick made up the walls. Various pictures of fox hunts and famous Brits adorned them. Of course, as a writer and public speaker I appreciated the photo of Britain’s most famous Nobel Laureate, Sir Winston Churchill.  The red color of the interior made it seem much smaller that it’s actual capacity. (They also provide outdoor seating.) I settled right in and prepared for dishes that our friends across the pond enjoy.

            I informed my server that I’d never been to this establishment. He recommended that genuine British stand-by: the Fish and Chips. (Patrons may order one of three different sizes ranging in price from $9.00 to $15.00.) I’ve enjoyed Fish and Chips before, but never like this. The fish had a crunchy exterior, yet it flaked easily on the inside. I didn’t require a knife to cut it.

            The quality of the chips surprised me the most. I’ve always thought that the Irish had a monopoly on proficient potato preparation. Apparently, some of that aptitude made its way across the Irish Sea to Great Britain. The chips (or “fries” as we Yanks call them) tasted so fresh I thought the chef just peeled them. I can’t recall a time when I enjoyed my entire meal, yet the quality of the potatoes stood out the most. I applaud the British Chip Shop for this feat.

            I really enjoyed the Fish and Chips, but that seemed a bit banal in terms of sampling British food. I know my readers expect something more from me. Such are the perils of being an internet food critic. I stopped by the British Chip Shop for dinner one evening and, once again, had to try something with potatoes.

            I began my meal with the Potato Leek Soup. ($5.00) A lot of places go broth heavy when it comes to soup: not the British Chip Shop. The large quantity of potatoes in the bowl surprised me. Once again, they tasted fresh as though someone just peeled them.

            For an entree I selected the Mussels in Ale. ($13.00) The sauce possessed a distinct flavor. It didn’t contain too much butter and tasted much milder than what I’m used to. At times clam sauce can make one’s taste buds feel as though they’ll explode off the tongue; not this one. I thought the sauce very smooth on the palette. I give the preparers great credit for getting the seasoning just right.  

            The dinner came with garlic flavored chips for dipping. These were actual “chips” not “fries”. Once again, I thought the seasoning perfect. The garlic tasted more temperate than what I expected.

            The only criticism I had involved the beverage. The second time I dined there I drank the iced tea which tasted fantastic. On my first visit I wanted to try something I couldn’t get anywhere else. I ordered a can of Barritt’s Ginger Beer. (This is Haddonfield so the drink contained no alcohol.) It initially had a sharp ginger flavor that gave way to a sweet aftertaste, almost like syrup. The drink contained 200 calories and 49 grams of sugar. Between the caffeine and the sugar, I didn’t know if I’d be able to sit still long enough to finish my meal. With all that noted, I would point out that I wanted to try something different and Barritt’s certainly delivered. I can’t fault the establishment for that.

            The British Chip Shop received an “Excellent” Zagat’s rating in 2013. They lived up to it on both occasions I dined there. The British have invaded Haddonfield for a fourth time. This time it looks like they’re here to stay.



Book Review – Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis

Rare authors have possessed the capability to portray American society with a unique combination of both wit and disdain. Even fewer have shown the requisite proficiency in the craft of writing to do so while utilizing a setting mostly outside of America’s borders. Sinclair Lewis managed to accomplish all three of these feats, not just in the course of a single career, but in the span on one novel. Dodsworth demonstrated the epitome of the artist’s craft while at the same time, presenting sarcasm on par with that of Johnathan Swift.

No Sinclair Lewis novel would be complete without his use of irony and sardonic humor. Dodsworth fulfilled this expectation. The attached description of a British aristocrat demonstrated how.

Lady Ouston was a beautiful woman and very commanding. She had a high, quick, passionate voice and many resolute opinions. She was firm and even a little belligerent about the preferability of Jay’s to Poiret in the matter of frocks, about the treachery of the Labor (sic) Party, about the desirability (entirely on behalf of the country) of Sir Francis becoming Prime Minister, about the heinousness of beer-drinking among the working classes, about the scoundrelism of roast chicken without a proper bread sauce, and particularly about the bad manners, illiteracy, and money-grubbing of the United States of America.

She had been born—and her father and mother before her—in Nashville, Tennessee. (Location 1556)

Lewis wrote Dodsworth, as he did most of his best novels, during Prohibition. Like his other work during the time frame, he colorfully worked his views on the subject into his tale.

Judge Turpin—an eye-glassed sparrow of a man who seemed to admire Sam, and showed his reverence for the law by taking illicit drink for drink with him. (Location 486)

In the event readers missed the point. Lewis included the following several sentences later.

Tub jabbed at Judge Turpin for sentencing bootleggers while he himself enjoyed his whiskey as thoroughly as anyone in Zenith. (Location 520)

While I enjoyed reading Lewis’ “zingers” on American mores, the disintegration of Dodworth’s marriage served as the central theme. Supposedly, Lewis based the novel on his own marital issues with Dorothy Thompson. Dodworth’s marital woes weren’t spared from the author’s acerbic pen. I supposed that’s why Dodsworth’s emotions and thoughts regarding his wife Fran seemed so genuine, as in the following passage.

…he had suddenly grasped something which he had never completely formulated in their twenty-three years of marriage: that she was not in the least a mature and responsible woman, mother and wife and administrator, but simply a clever child with a child’s confused self-dramatizations. (Location 3907)

This passage represented only one view of Dodsworth’s wife. Not all of Lewis’ prose described her so favorably.

Another element that made this novel so believable to me was the way Dodsworth perceived himself. The quotation below shows Dodsworth’s reaction to his wife’s suggestion they travel through Europe after his retirement.

I’ve learned that Life is real and Life is earnest and the presidency of a corporation is its goal. What would I be doing with anything so degenerate as enjoying myself? (Location 632)

I recall a story that Ms. Thompson once wrote a letter to Lewis stating to the effect, “Either you’re working, drinking or recovering from drinking.” The above quote seemed a roundabout reference to that sentiment.

Later in the story Lewis presented Sam Dodsworth as the poor, helpless victim of an unfaithful partner.

But between blurred drowsinesses, he saw with clarity that he was utterly a man alone, that his work, his children, his friends, his habitual routine of life, and at last his wife, all the props and crutches with which he had been enabled to hobble through life as a Good Fellow, were gone, and that he had nothing upon which to depend except such solaces as he might find in his own brain. No one really needed him, and he was a man who had never been able to depend on any one to whom he could not give. (Location 6091)

What a requiem for a selfless altruist. Then towards the conclusion of the story (I should point out to readers that I’m shaking my head as I’m writing this) Dodsworth attempted to reconcile with his wife. After deep, difficult reflection he chose to return to his new girlfriend. The novel ended with the following line.

He was, indeed, so confidently happy that he completely forgot Fran and he did not again yearn over her, for almost two days. (Location 7171)

Without any firsthand knowledge of Lewis’ marriage to Ms. Thompson, Dodsworth left me with the impression Lewis didn’t see himself as responsible in any way for the relationship’s decay.

I would call Dodsworth an absolute must-read for Sinclair Lewis fans. It possessed all the elements of a great novel by America’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature. Since it took place mainly in Europe, I’d recommend people unfamiliar with his work start out with books he set in the United States such as Elmer Gantry, Main Street or Babbitt. Dodsworth made a cameo appearance in the latter. The fact I read those books enabled me to appreciate the sharp jocularity of Dodsworth and its author even more.

The Poodle Professor – Part II

Who could possibly be more qualified to watch an 18 year old dog for a few weeks than I? It turned out to be much more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. Did I mention that none of my dogs happened to be poodles? Just what’s it like caring for a miniature poodle? Think the canine equivalent to a surly alcoholic on steroids.

            How can I put this one delicately? Paris’ digestive functions were very regular. So much so that I often joked that I should start eating her dog food. I would ask readers not to take that point seriously. Please do not start sending me cases and cases of dog food.

            One day I came home for lunch and decided to take Paris outside. Unfortunately, on this occasion her “regularity” was a little off. A situation developed where I had to clean her. It made me sad to see such an elegant looking dog who carried herself with such class in a “dirty” state. I did my duty, no pun intended. Following this, Paris took an immense dislike to me. I can’t say I blame her. If someone speaking a language I couldn’t understand took a wet paper towel and started probing my nether regions, I wouldn’t be signing up for that person’s fan club either; nor they for mine for that matter.

            Paris suddenly morphed into a very different dog. She became a recluse in her own bed. She wouldn’t leave it on her own. When she needed to go out she’d sit up. I’d carry her to the yard. She used to prowl the back as though she were discovering a new world for the first time every occasion she ventured out there. Not any more. She would do her business and sit down. I’d take her inside and place her in front of her bowl. She’d sniff for a second and then wheel around racing out of the kitchen to the living room and into her bed. I didn’t know what to make of this. I don’t recall every hearing about a dog who passed up the opportunity for “num-a-nums”, as my step mom called them. Paris did.

            This went on for the next day. I’d take her out, put her in front of her bowl, and she’d bolt back to her bed. Why wouldn’t she eat or drink anything?

 And then there was the night crying. She had a beautiful plush bed in the living room. I slept on the couch next to it, just so she wouldn’t get frightened…more than usual. It didn’t help. Paris suffered from separation anxiety. She’d get up and start crying whenever my step mother wasn’t around.  Every night she’d whimper. Sometimes she’d go on for hours. One thing I really don’t like to hear is a female crying while in my presence during the middle of the night; be that female human or dog. It just gnaws away at my self-esteem. I tried to settle Paris down as best I could. I attempted to sing to her with the hope that she’d at least be happy when I stopped. No success. I realized she would eventually calm down and fall asleep right around the time I needed to get up and go to work. Before readers go back a few paragraphs to see if (s)he missed something: this is a story about an 18 year old dog; not an infant child.

            When Paris wouldn’t eat or drink anything from her bowl, I worried about her health. In human years she would’ve been 90. Lack of nutrients would certainly take their toll, but not before the dehydration. I tried putting her by her bowls in the kitchen repeatedly, but she’d just scamper back to her bed. I didn’t understand what was going on. Did Paris’ Gallic temperament inspire her to go on a hunger strike to protest my care?

            Paris and her human family lived in Slidell, Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit. She survived one of the most devastating natural disasters in our nation’s history. I started to wonder if I’d be able to survive two weeks with her.  

             Before resorting to renting an IV pump, I recalled that Paris liked the cereal I ate. While she lay in her bed I took a handful of it and put it under her nose. She gobbled it! Success! I brought over some more. She munched that also! I felt so happy she dined on something. I then thought I figured out the problem. I brought her water bowl over to her bed and put it in front of her face. After a little coaxing she drank! I then brought over her bowl and spoon fed her. She ate rapaciously.

            On the day before my dad and step mom were due home, I sat on the couch exhausted. I think I’d gotten about five hours sleep over the previous week. I gazed at Paris soundly slumbering in her bed. Since this was mid-afternoon she dozed quietly. Her crying didn’t start until I got ready for bed. I didn’t get it. She would rather die of starvation than leave her bed. I spent hours trying to comfort her and make her feel okay and she didn’t seem to care. I couldn’t believe how ridiculous she behaved.

            In spite of my physical and emotional exhaustion, I had a moment of clarity. I realized the way I lived my life wasn’t much different from how Paris did. How many times in my own life had I not taken risks in favor of staying in my comfort zone? How often had I decided to forgo having fun in favor of watching television and falling asleep on the couch? I would add: this was the same couch I sat in at the time. And the point that really got to me: I could understand how my mother must’ve felt whenever she tried to help me and I took it for granted. I became irritated by a dog’s behavior. I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience one’s child behaving that way. She’d passed away two years before. I’ll never have the opportunity to tell her that I finally understand why she’d get upset with me in my younger days.

            To this day, my experience poodle sitting was one of the most educational of my life. I’m a better person today for having it. They say that the elderly have a lot of wisdom to impart. I suppose the same goes for older dogs. I think she did prove my opening quotation a bit wrong, though. She wasn’t my enemy, she was my teacher, but I’d have to say I did consider her a friend, albeit the four legged variety.

            I figured when my step mom and Dad got home, Paris would return to her usual self. None of us realized at the time that she was terminally ill. She passed away on June 9, 2012 following a long and happy life.

            My step mother has a magnet on her refrigerator. It’s a picture of Paris soaking wet and sitting on a body board. “She loved the water,” my step mom said. Whenever I see it I think about how brave a dog would have to be in order to jump in the water and then sit on a surf board. I learned that in addition to teaching me a few things about leaving my comfort zone, it turned out Paris wasn’t afraid to lead by example, either.    


Drama Review – Abortion by Eugene O’Neill

Quite possibly, the most traumatic choice a person can face in life is the decision to have an abortion. The repercussions can haunt a person for the remainder of one’s life. Who better to write a fictional account of a topic this horrible than Eugene O’Neill? In 1914, he did just that. As only O’Neill could, he presented a dramatic work that unified both the carefree nature of youth along with the harsh reality of the consequences of it.

This is an interesting review for me. I thought the characters one dimensional and stereotypical. Yet, I still enjoyed the play. It took a high level of skill from the dramatist to manage this feat. The fact I read the piece in only twenty minutes may have helped in this regard, as well.

The drama centered on Jack Townsend, a popular college athlete with a great life ahead of him. I thought O’Neill’s choice of conflict creative. Instead of resorting to the trite “he’s got a great future and gets a girl pregnant,” the tale dealt with events that transpired after the event and following Jack’s response to the unexpected pregnancy. I give O’Neill credit for not resorting to a banal story arc.

The overall narrative reminded me a bit of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In Dreiser’s story, a man with the opportunity to move up in society by marrying a wealthy woman impregnates a poor girl with whom he worked.  Abortion pre-dated it by eleven years. Jack longed to marry the more sophisticated Evelyn, but the after effects of his affair with a secretary interfered. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for those who wish to read it or see it performed.

I really liked the choice of Jack as a protagonist. I thought O’Neill’s decision to make him a college athlete outstanding. Attending college is widely held in high regard. In addition, we live in a society that glorifies sports people. Interestingly, though, it’s difficult to consult the news without seeing a story about one who’s behaving badly. O’Neill wrote Abortion one hundred years ago! It amazed me to read about the same kind of mentality in American life. Not surprising, after the major tragic event of the play, the students sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Jack.

On a personal level, I consider myself pro-life. I do not believe it’s right to terminate a pregnancy through abortion. That’s what I think. What I know is that I don’t have the right to force my views on others. There are some issues that are best left between a person and his/her conscience and/or his/her god. I find it troubling that in a nation where SCOTUS has ruled that abortion is legal under the Constitution, many states have resorted to bizarre contortions of zoning laws to make it illegal in everything but name. O’Neill’s tragedy about back-alley abortion clinics and the ruined lives that result from them provided a much sadder commentary on our own time than his.

Drama Review – Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill

Whenever someone tells me (s)he is about to read a work by Eugene O’Neill, I worry. I make sure to tell him/her to have someone hide all sharp objects within a five mile radius. For those planning on reading Strange Interlude, I would caution readers to stash all the blunt ones, as well. While I cannot deny O’Neill’s genius, there’s no ignoring the depressing nature of his work. In 1936, the Nobel Prize committee presented O’Neill with the award in Literature, “for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy.” Strange Interlude exhibited all these traits.

            Eugene O’Neill was the first and, to this day, only American playwright to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Four of his works earned him the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Strange Interlude did so in 1928. While I found the overall story unique and creative, I didn’t think it one of O’Neill’s best. I certainly wouldn’t put it in the same category as Beyond the Horizon or The Iceman Cometh. The first time I read Long Day’s Journey into Night, the drama engrossed me so much, I felt like I had a drinking problem when I finished. While interesting, Strange Interlude lacked the same impact.  

            As typical of O’Neill’s plays, a number of lines struck me as very philosophical. In the first act, Marsden thinks, “The square thing…but we must all be crooks where happiness is concerned!…steal or starve!…” (Page 76). In Act Two, Nina says, “Life is just a drawn out lie with a sniffling sound at the end.” (Page 104) I already warned my readers to hide all sharp and blunt objects. Lines like these serve as a good sampling of the overall tone of the play.

            Like in Beyond the Horizon, O’Neill jolted the audience with a major plot twist. After entering into an unhappy marriage to Sam Evans, Nina decided to have a child in the hopes it would improve their relationship. She then discovered insanity runs in Sam’s family. Therefore, she got a friend, Dr. Edmund Darrell, to, ahem, serve as the child’s biological father. They would allow Sam to raise the child thinking it his own. Even he didn’t know about the insanity in his ancestry. Before readers applaud Dr. Darrell for graciously giving up his time to serve as the, ahem, biological father of Nina’s child, this wasn’t the altruistic act in may appear to be. It turns out the doctor loved Nina as well. I thought this mix made for a compelling drama. I turned the pages in anticipation of the emotional catastrophe to come.

            I thought the repeated, and I emphasize repeated, asides by the various characters rather annoying. As any author knows, the hardest part of writing drama is that the audience or reader doesn’t know the inner thoughts of any character. O’Neill chose to remedy this through numerous soliloquies. I found them distracting after a while. Granted, unlike Gao Xinjian, at least he didn’t reject the Stanislavski system. That would’ve made the incessant inner monologues insufferable.

                 At the end of the play, Nina explained the title. “Strange interlude! Yes, our lives are merely strange dark interludes in the electrical display of God the Father.” (Page 255) Yeah, not real life-affirming stuff, yet it showed the essence of O’Neill’s work. I’d recommend Strange Interlude to people already familiar with O’Neill’s plays. It’s a good drama, but not one of his best. Keep in mind he penned masterpieces such as Beyond the Horizon and The Iceman Cometh. Even as a critic, I admit it’s not entirely fair to fault him for not consistently crafting work up to their superlative level.