Month: September 2014

Theater Review – Doubt by John Patrick Shanley at Burlington County Footlighters

Due to the troubling subject matter of this play, I had doubts I’d enjoy it. The presentation by the cast and crew at Burlington County Footlighters this fall, put my doubts to rest. They performed a somber reading of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Doubt.

Have I overdone the whole “doubt” thing, yet? FULL DISCLOSURE: if you think so, you shouldn’t keep reading this review.

When I entered the theater I started to genuflect. The altar, stained glass and podium gave the true ambiance of a church. The addition of the red light above the latter showed fantastic attention to detail on the part of the set designer (Jim Frazier). When Father Flynn (Kevin Walters) approached the podium and delivered his sermon on “doubt” I suspected I was not in the presence of holiness…or was I?

The playbill read that Mr. Walters “regards Doubt as one of the finest plays ever written.” Father Flynn is certainly the most challenging dramatic role I’ve encountered. Theatergoers need to view him as someone unjustly accused of a heinous action. They also need to think him an unrepentant pedophile. Not an easy character for an actor to play. It requires him to walk a fine line in order to be convincing on both counts. Through his subtle vocal inflections Mr. Walters did so splendidly. At the end of the performance I wanted to have a beer with him. At the same time I would’ve been a little leery of letting him watch my kids. Bravo on such a phenomenal acting performance.

I enjoyed watching Donne Petito bring Sister Aloysius Beauvier’s character to life. This performer conveyed the essence of an ultra-conservative, inflexible and doctrinaire ideologue. (I should point out that the playwright set this drama in 1964 at a Bronx Catholic grammar school. The action didn’t take place in Washington, D. C. or the hustings somewhere south of New England.) The dark tone of Ms. Petito’s voice led me to doubt the credibility of Sister Aloysius’ accusations. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of a nun I met while attending a Catholic high school. That made her rendition much more believable to me.

Linda Hansen played an exceptional contrast in her role as Sister James. While timid at first, the character gradually transitioned into a hybrid of compassion and rationality. Ms. Hansen made her character’s metamorphosis very convincing. I thought her facial expressions really conveyed the true essence of “doubt”. I’m sure my face displayed a similar appearance throughout and after the performance.

In her role as Mrs. Muller, Carla Ezell did a fantastic job bringing to light that uncomfortable streak of gray that lies between black and white. Of all the characters in the play, Mrs. Muller came across as the most complex. When Sr. Aloysius shared her belief Fr. Flynn molested her son, Mrs. Muller decided to keep him in the school. This would allow her son the opportunity to get into a good college. She also implied he was homosexual, intimating he would’ve enjoyed it anyway. In addition, “it’s only until June” when he’d graduate and go on to high school. Yeah, that’s about as complex a character any playwright could create.

I should add that the Shanley made the Muellers African-American. That added another dimension of intricacy to the play. Should Mrs. Muller have sacrificed her son’s opportunity to get a good education over a nun’s uncorroborated suspicion that a priest abused her child? Not as obvious a choice to make as it seemed on the surface.

I applaud Burlington County Footlighters for presenting a play with such intricacy and controversial subject matter. While a disturbing subject, the performers delivered a rendition that did true credit to the essence of this drama. On that, there can be no doubt.

Book Review – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Page 180) Without question, F. Scott Fitzgerald crafted the perfect line. Its lyricism resonated off the page. I can’t imagine anyone who’s ever truly lived not having nostalgic flashes upon reading this text. In addition, it encapsulated the entire premise of the book in a simple sentence. This shows why The Great Gatsby is still widely read all these years following its 1925 publication.

Without question, Fitzgerald penned the greatest story of unrequited love ever written. It pained me to read the following exchange between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby.

“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
“I’m going to fix everything the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.”
He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…” (Page 110)

Wow! That’s potent prose! It’s even more powerful when contrasted with Nick’s earlier depiction of the title character.

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of “creative temperament”-it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. (Page 2)

I’ve never encountered a better set-up for a character’s disintegration. Fitzgerald developed this so well that I empathized with and wished the best for Gatsby. I did so in spite of the cryptic references to how he made his fortune. The fillip that led him to pursue this line of action really inspired me to root for the guy.

While known more for his poetic language, Fitzgerald displayed outstanding proficiency with foreshadowing in this book. He presented it in a subtle way that still drew my attention. At one point Gatsby told Nick, “I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me.” (Page 67) The author made an earlier less noticeable reference similar to this, as well.

As many authors are already aware, many books on writing cite The Great Gatsby for Fitzgerald’s unusual choice of a narrator. He made Nick Carraway a second cousin to Gatsby’s love interest, Daisy. In tales such as this most writers would have used either Gatsby or Daisy as the story teller. It showed tremendous skill on the part of the author to try something more creative and to do it so memorably. He selected a challenging approach, and in doing so, made exploring the world of East Egg much more enriching.

One of the greatest tributes a person can pay an author is to read his/her work. With respect to Mr. Fitzgerald I have an even greater one. He was the writer who influenced me to take up the craft and become and author myself. I’m sure I’m not the only reader of The Great Gatsby who felt so inspired.

Book Review – The Gathering by Anne Enright

“Because, at this moment, I find that being part of a family the most excruciating possible way to be alive.” (Page 243) I have to disagree. The most unbearable way to live is by reading about the Hegarty family in Anne Enright’s The Gathering. Even for those wanting to read about sad dysfunctional families, this novel will be a challenge. It should come with a bottle of anti-depressants.

The Gathering began with Veronica Hegarty learning that her brother Liam killed himself. (I’m wondering if he read an advance copy of Ms. Enright’s manuscript.) Then the story became depressing: really depressing. The book stayed in Veronica’s point of view the whole time so there was no break from the angst. She reflected on her brother’s life and thought back about events that happened in her own: none of them good or life affirming.

I never thought anyone would be capable of writing anything gloomier than Theodore Dreiser’s Jennie Gerhart. In that sense, Ms. Enright deserves credit. I’d call this book morbid. I won’t give away spoilers for those who feel they’re too happy. I’m still trying to figure out the conflict in the story. Veronica’s goal wasn’t to avoid misery, that’s for sure.

I thought the usages of language in this novel bizarre.

I am a trembling mess from hip to knee. There is a terrible heat, a looseness in my innards that makes me want to dig my fists between my thighs. It is a confusing feeling—somewhere between diarrhea and sex—this grief that is almost genital. (Page 7)

I do have to agree on this point: I would call the sensation she describes as “confusing”, also.

I even found one passage in this book that offended me. I’m going to include it just so readers can see for themselves. They may make their own decision as to whether or not the segment below inappropriate.

I am sitting at a street café table, with perhaps my fifth latte of the day, when some American kids pass by, two girls and a guy. One of the girls is saying, ‘You know what really sucks? What really sucks are those button flies, when you miss a button?’ and the guy says, “And you’re like…this, you know?’ with his hands crossed at the wrist in front of his crotch, like a picture of the flagellated Christ. (Page 83)

If anyone can explain what the crucifixion of Jesus has to do with button fly jeans, please drop me a line.

Here’s a line I don’t think any romance writers will copy. I doubt it possible that anyone will describe love making in a similar fashion.

Tom had sex with me the night of the wake – as if Liam’s death had blown all the cobwebs away: the fuss and the kids and the big, busy job and the late nights spent strenuously not sleeping with other women. He was getting back to basics: telling me that he loved me, telling me that my brother might be dead but that he was very much alive. Exercising his right. I love my husband, but I lay there with one leg on either side of his dancing, country-boy hips and I did not feel alive. I felt like a chicken when it is quartered. (Page 40)

We won’t be seeing that last line on a Valentine’s Day card any time soon.

The Gathering also had the weirdest plot twist I’ve ever read. Veronica remembered her grandmother Ada’s courtship with a man named Nugent. After building this up for several pages she commented, “She did not marry Nugent, you will be relieved to hear. She married his friend Charlie Spillane.” (Page 22) That was the first time in the book she mentioned the character of Mr. Spillane. The author should’ve referenced him prior and added some foreshadowing. When I read the sentence I cited I had to go back and review it several times. It jarred me.

I’m not sure what else I can add here. While I thought the structure interesting, the story unsettled me. Are readers to believe that nothing positive ever happened to anyone in the Hegarty family? When I reached the end of the book I felt like Liam was the lucky one. I predict The Gathering will be gathering a lot of dust on bookstore shelves in the future.

Book Review – The Eternal Wonder by Pearl Buck

I’ll spend eternity wondering just how much better this book could’ve been had Ms. Buck lived to complete it. The hand written draft of this unfinished novel turned up in a Texas storage unit in December of 2012; almost 40 years following the author’s passing. Her son, Edgar Walsh, decided to publish this work. Admirers of Ms. Buck’s outstanding talent should be thankful he did. It gives us a first-hand insight into the writing process of one of the world’s best loved authors.

This rough draft read much better than other early versions of works I’ve read. Some of the creative use of language led me to re-read a number of passages. For instance:

And they left the others and were driven back to the house, which no longer seemed a home, but only a house that happened to be theirs. (Location 729)

I also enjoyed the following exchange.

“If it is our fate,” she said.
“Do you believe in fate, Stephanie?”
“Of course I do. At least the Chinese part of me does.”
“And the other-the American?”
She shook her head. “You’ll miss the airport bus. The taxi is waiting.” (Location 2459)

This novel absorbed my attention better than many completed books. I don’t typically encounter that with works-in-progress. I found this story atypically moving for me, as well. The protagonist, Rann Colfax, lived an ideal existence before his world suddenly shattered. (Let’s face it: the best authors do this to their characters.) I devoured this story to see how the bildungsroman would unfold.

From a selfish standpoint, I applauded Ms. Buck’s decision to have Rann take in interest in writing. She presented him as a brilliant person who could pursue any career he wanted. Since this character had many opportunities to choose from and decided to write, it made me feel vindicated in my own decision to try crafting novels. Besides who knows better about the trials and tribulations of writing than an author? For those unaware Ms. Buck wrote around 70 books. She had deep personal knowledge of the story she told.

In terms of criticism, The Eternal Wonder did develop into a tale of two novels. A large portion of it dealt with Rann’s journey into adulthood. The rest addressed the issue of race relations between Americans and people of Chinese ancestry. I thought the author’s overall concept excellent, but the two stories didn’t mesh as well as they should have. With more time I suspect Ms. Buck would’ve fused the two better. Based on her love of China and all the time she lived there, I’m curious if the race relations issue would’ve been more prominent in a final draft.

Another point that needs to be made: the author made character of Dr. Sharp a flagrant pedophile. For reasons I can’t grasp, many other Nobel Laureates have included a pederast in their work. Andre Gide, Thomas Mann, William Golding, and most recently Mario Vargas Llosa have all written about such characters. What’s with that? I’m waiting to see if Chris Hansen ambush interviews the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

Overall, I thought The Eternal Wonder a very good read. As the author didn’t complete the final draft, it’s not perfect. I still found it an engrossing story. That fact I can write that about a hand written manuscript shows just what phenomenal talent Pearl Buck possessed.

Restaurant Review – The Pub in Pennsauken, NJ

The coats of arms on the walls made me feel as though dining in a castle during the Middle Ages. When first seated I wondered if I’d be sent to the dungeon if I displeased the staff. Fortunately, the crew at the Pub didn’t feel the need to torture me. They did, however, go medieval on my wallet.

The company uses the slogan, “Everything Extravagant Except the Prices.” I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree on that one. I also found it interesting that line appears on their web site, yet it doesn’t show any of their prices. I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to order sea food, or if I wanted to have enough money to buy groceries for the rest of the week. This call turned out to be much easier than I thought. I love Italian and like chicken. I ordered the Chicken Parmigiana.

The $18.99 price tag was a bit higher than what I’m accustomed to paying for Chicken Parmigiana. To be fair, it also included unlimited access to the Pub’s legendary salad bar. I helped myself to both the regular and Caesar Salads. I also sampled the Three Bean Salad. All tasted freshly prepared and excellent. While I didn’t try it myself, a woman in my party complimented the apple sauce’s “chunky” texture.

As pricey as I thought the meal, I can’t complain I didn’t get my money’s worth. It came on a huge plate; at least I’m assuming they served it on a plate. The monumental quantity of food served obscured the dish. The meal had a sweet taste to it; almost as though the chef prepared it in some kind of syrup. While different, I enjoyed it. It should go without saying that I couldn’t finish this helping.

The server displayed outstanding customer service when she personally boxed up my meal for me. I’ve haven’t had a server do that in years. Mine also boxed up another gentleman in my party’s meal as well.

I went to the Pub with a group of 20 people. The staff accommodated us without any trouble. They set aside three tables for us so everyone had plenty of room. As we attended on a Saturday night the building became very crowded. With that noted, I didn’t have any trouble getting through the main dining room to the salad bar and back. I didn’t worry about bumping into anyone or accidentally spilling anything on unsuspecting diners. I give the management great credit for the layout.

My trip to the Men’s Room made me very uncomfortable. The Pub is the only establishment I’ve ever dined at that employs a Men’s Room Attendant. I don’t understand why. In an era with motion activated hand dryers I don’t see the need for someone to hand me a towel after I wash my hands. While I tipped the gentleman, I viewed the tip dish a cheap means of pressuring me to pay for having to use the facilities. Overall, I just find the idea of someone just sitting in the rest room while patrons answer nature’s call rather weird.

Another issue I had concerned the menu itself. They offered a sea food dish specifically described as “for two.” As it cost over sixty dollars, that didn’t sound totally out of the ballpark for fish. It confused me because directly across from it the menu stated “No Sharing”. I wondered: if they can’t write the menu properly, are they going to be able to get my group’s orders straight? On the later we had no issues.

While pricey, The Pub does offer quality meals. They serve much larger portions than I typically see at other restaurants. In essence, customers receive more than one meal out of the order. Between that and the salad bar, people do get their money’s worth. Just be prepared to cash in your 401(k) before walking in there.

Music Review – Live After Death by Iron Maiden

EDDIE LIVES!

Without question, this 1985 cut deserves to be called one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. The audio features an introduction by Sir Winston Churchill. The cover showcases Eddie bursting out of a grave. Behind him H. P. Lovecraft’s cryptic quotation from the Necronomicon on the tombstone reads:

That is not dead which cannot eternal lie.
Yet with strange aeons even death may die.

As if all that doesn’t make fans want this album: there’s the music.

Phil Lynott said he wanted Thin Lizzie to be “the Yardbirds of Heavy Metal” due to the dueling guitarists. I’d call Maiden the “Rolling Stones of Heavy Metal”. The interactive guitar playing between Dave Murray and Adrian Smith took the genre to a whole new level. Tracks like “The Trooper” and “Children on the Damned” exhibit two outstanding axe men at the apex of their talent. Unlike many metal guitarists from the 1980’s they did more than just tap and run through scales as fast as they could. These maestros understood they were playing Rock and Roll, not noise. The goal wasn’t to play as fast as possible: the point was to play good music. They failed in a way on the later: they played great music.

Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain anchored the heaviest rhythm section I’ve ever heard. How these guys get overlooked when one talks about the great bass and drums combos in rock history mystifies me. Sometimes Harris sounded like he was playing the “William Tell Overture” on steroids, at other times he’d’ craft creative bass lines on tracks such as “Phantom of the Opera” that Jazz musicians would struggle through. McBrain’s drumming style was both heavy and distinctly his own. I especially liked his playing on “Die With Your Boots On” and “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”. I really liked the way he used the ride cymbal. He didn’t limit himself to hitting it on every eighth or quarter note. I don’t recall hearing a drummer take that approach before. His fills and bass rolls always fit the song, unlike many of his lesser talented contemporaries. He never did it to be fancy or flashy. And the key point that all the youngsters reading this should take note of: both these musicians always kept the beat. That’s something that all bassists and drummers should remember: regardless of what genre he/she plays. That’s the reason they’re in the band.

Steve Harris and the members of Iron Maiden didn’t hold back when it came to writing songs and words. Bruce Dickinson deserved great credit for remembering all the challenging lyrics and unusual melodies. “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” sounded like the epic poem they based it on. “Phantom of the Opera” came across as the Heavy Metal version of a theatrical performance. I thought his performance on this album much better than that on later cuts such as A Real Live One and A Real Dead One.

As much as I love this album, one of the biggest disappointments of my adult life came when I bought it on CD in 1995. It had songs I didn’t remember hearing on the original such as “Iron Maiden” and “Revelations”, which I liked. I didn’t like that they replaced great tracks such as “Wrathchild”, “22 Acacia Avenue” and especially “Phantom of the Opera” with them. I thought the tunes on the original cassette represented a much better set list. Fortunately, the record company re-issued the CD in 1998 with all the tracks from the CD and the cassette. I had to wait for it, but I this release made me happier than any re-issue I’ve ever heard.

I have to admit, it displeased me to learn that the B Sides of the two singles the band released with the original recording in 1985 did not appear on the re-issue. While in the present era, I can listen to them on-line, it still makes me feel like the re-issue is incomplete. On “Losfer Words”, the flip side of “Run to the Hills”, Murray and Smith displayed their proficiency on this instrumental cut. It’s a shame it didn’t make it to the album. It reminded me a bit of the instrumental portion at the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, only with more of an edge.

Live After Death certainly qualifies as one of my “desert island discs.” I doubt death will ever die, but Iron Maiden’s legacy won’t.

Music Review – Live Evil by Black Sabbath

Rarely does an album live up to its title this well. I’ve got to give the guys credit: they delivered exactly what they promised. I’m sure music aficionados realize this disc shares a title with a live album recorded by Miles Davis. The similarities end there. This tour-de-force recorded during the Ronnie James Dio fronted incarnation of the band features some Black Sabbbath staples as well as prime cuts from Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules.

I know “purists” will argue that it’s not really Sabbath without Ozzy as the front man. I disagree. Dio (may he rest in peace) had a stronger voice and broader range as a vocalist. Much to his credit he understood he wasn’t Ozzy and decided not to try to be Ozzy. He took Sabbath gems like “Children of the Grave” and “N. I. B.” and made them uniquely his own. His ad libs on “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” gave the songs a more ominous aura lacking in the originals. I still can’t listen to this album in the dark. It makes me keep thinking that Iron Man is coming to get me.

As a bit of a purist myself, I do wish Bill Ward had been on the drums for the recording. While Vinny Appice possessed tremendous skill as a drummer, I think Ward’s style fitted Sabbath much better. His style complimented Geezer Butler’s bass playing better, as well.

Even with half the original members, the Live Evil line up delivered a solid performance. “Paranoid” is one of the greatest metal songs ever recorded: no matter who’s playing it. As remarkable a statement as this is, “Vodoo” and “Mob Rules” sound even heavier than the studio versions. These are phenomenal accomplishments even for the members of Black Sabbath.

I’d describe this album as the Live at the Regal for metal guitarists. Tony Iommi got the most wicked guitar tone I’ve ever heard. It sounded real raw, metallic and heavy. His trills gave me the mental image of his steel strings pounding against an anvil. I enjoyed listening to him stretch out on “Heaven and Hell.” He even tacked on an extended solo piece at the end of it. I also liked the way he anticipated the riff to Metallica’s “One” during his introduction to “Black Sabbath”. Keep in mind Iommi’s axe of choice has always been a Gibson SG Guitar. Let that be a lesson to all you guitarists out there buying axes made so-called “exclusively” for “metal”.

I always thought Weather Report’s Heavy Weather had the most creative album cover. That was until I saw Live Evil’s. It features figures that illustrate every song on the CD against a dark background. It’s amazing they managed to get all tracks represented so vividly.

Aside from the great musicianship, the lyrics are much better than I expected from a heavy metal band. The great alliteration “phantom figures free forever” in “Neon Knights” really set the song apart from others in the genre. Well, that and the line “bloody angels fast descending.” If Shakespeare were alive today and playing in a heavy metal band he’d be struggling to come up with words that good.

Even without Ozzy and Bill Ward, Live Evil represents the Black Sabbath brand very well. Like Miles Davis, Tony Iommy and Geezer Butler both had ears for talent. They managed to bring new capable musicians into the band and keep it relevant. It does make me wonder what might have been had Dio and Appice not left the group following its recording. In that sense this album is both “Heaven and Hell” for fans like me.

Book Review – The Hanging Garden by Patrick White

Following in the tradition of great artists like Jimi Hendrix, Patrick White didn’t allow his passing to cramp his productive output. To the joy of his fans, his final work-in-progress, The Hanging Garden is now in print. While unfinished it allows readers the opportunity to explore the creative mind of one of the Twentieth Century’s most original authors.

As White never finished the book the publisher included a blurb at the beginning that read:

The Hanging Garden has been transcribed from Patrick White’s handwritten manuscript and, in the absence of a living author to consult, not edited.

With that noted, I found the writing much more polished than expected. It did include White’s trademark unusual point of view switches. His novels always challenge and keep me alert. This one was no different. The only time I had a sense of reading a draft version of a novel occurred when an author’s note appeared in the text.

The classroom is rocking by now with the swell of the sea. Hidden in the mangroves blacks are waiting to spear the landing parties of explorers. [Find out about these mangroves.] (Page 96)

I’ve read a number of White’s other books. Going into The Hanging Garden, expected to read some clever usage of language. It didn’t disappoint.

She would rather not be faced with things, even those she knows about. (Page 112)

Mrs. Bulpit was a pale woman except where the mouth had been painted over. Her forearms, hands, and face could have been molded from natural marzipan. (Page 3)

In any case, he was not emotional, unless in those secret compartments where he never allowed anyone to enter. (Page 13)

And my personal favorite:

I shall not write this poem. Memory is safer than invisible ink, that all the school knows about, playing at spies, exchanging coded messages. (Page 115)

In terms of the story, it did leave me wanting more. Part of that stemmed from White only completing a third of the novel. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the premise. The narrative centered on the lives of two children uprooted due to the Second World War. It definitely stimulated by interest to discover how their lives progressed into adulthood.

I always enjoy reading incomplete works by writers I admire. It makes me feel less ashamed of all the stories and novels I still haven’t finished. With that understood, since The Hanging Garden only represented a portion of the final work, the overall story is incomplete. As always with this author, the writing can be very difficult to comprehend. For that reason I can only recommend to hard-core Patrick White fans.

Book Review – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I’ve read Of Mice and Men numerous times both for school and pleasure. I decided to read it once more while pretending that I’d never heard the story before. I knew this would be a challenge as the characters of Lennie and George have become ingrained into American popular culture. In spite of the challenges, I managed to get through Steinbeck’s classic with an open mind. To my surprise I liked the book much more than I ever did.

I know the author borrowed the title from a line in Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”. A lot of book titles represent allusions to classic literary works; many lack any relation to the story. (Steinbeck’s own The Moon is Down abstracted from Macbeth comes to mind.) I really applaud the way Steinbeck applied the novel’s appellation to the actual narrative. In the beginning of the book the author described how Lennie kept killing mice because of his stature in relation to their diminutive size. (Page 803) Because of this, the title had both literal and figurative connotations. I applaud the author for his creativity.

I would describe Steinbeck’s use of foreshadowing in this work as without peer. He utilized a lot of it, especially for a short novel. At no time did I find it excessive or obvious. Early in the tale George referenced an incident between Lennie and a girl in another town. (Page 804) Carlson’s euthanizing of the dog hinted at more tragedy to come. Of course, Lennie’s accidental slaying of both the mouse and puppy also intimated a more serious inadvertent killing on his part. In addition, the author worked all these events into the larger narrative. At no point did they stop the story from moving forward.

One element that I always miss in so called “works of literary merit” is the use of symbolism. I didn’t have that trouble with 1937’s Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck’s parallels between Carlson’s views and the policies enacted in Nazi Germany were difficult to ignore. I found Carlson’s cavalier attitude toward euthanasia chilling. The author even gave him the last line in the book. It will haunt me for the rest of my days.

The only thing about this novel I didn’t like occurred during the exchange between Lennie and Curley’s wife. (The author didn’t provide her with a name.) This passage showed me that even the best authors aren’t immune from “rookie” mistakes.

…”’Nother time I met a guy, an’ he was in pitchers. Went out to Riverside Dance Palace with him. He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it.” She looked close at Lennie to see whether she was impressing him. “I never got that letter,” she said. “I always thought my ‘ol lady stole it. Well, I wasn’t gonna stay no place where I couldn’t get nowhere or make something of myself, an’ where they stole your letters. I ast her if she stole it, too, an’ she says no. So I married Curley. Met him out at the Riverside Dance Palace that same night.” (Page 863)

I found this section completely unbelievable. Would Curley’s wife really tell Lennie about her sordid romantic history during their first conversation with one another? The other guys in the camp had been there much longer and they didn’t know anything about her past. In addition, I’ve heard of dating on the rebound, but Curley’s wife’s response seems extreme. How could marrying a former boxer ameliorate a movie career that never happened? The author made the character of Curley’s wife a one dimensional tart. I couldn’t determine if she behaved as such due to a lack of judgment or intellect.

While I’ve read Of Mice and Men before, I found it well worth exploring again. It amazed me that the author could weave so many literary elements into such a short novel. He also achieved this without anything coming across as forced or pedantic. That would certainly explain why the story is still widely read today and will be for generations to come.

Book Review – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

“Art is the Mirror of our betrayed ideals,” wrote Doris Lessing in The Golden Notebook. (Location 7502) This complex tour-de-force provided the author ample opportunity to explore this theme as well as myriad others. Ms. Lessing delved into matters as diverse as relationships, her disillusionment with the Communist Party and the psyche of the creative mind among more I wouldn’t be able to count.

It saddened me to hear of Ms. Lessing’s passing last November. I’ve had a copy of The Golden Notebook sitting on my bookshelf ever since she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (2008) I’ve read several of her other works, but just never got around to this one. I know many people cite it as her major novel. When I saw a digital version of it on sale for a few dollars, I decided to stop waiting. I picked it up and read it. I’m glad I did. If I’d known the text’s difficulty in advance, I don’t know that I would have. This book caused me to struggle mightily.

The story centered on a series of notebooks that the protagonist, Anna Wulf, kept. I welcomed the section where she described the purpose of each one.

I keep four notebooks, a black notebook, which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook, concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary. (Location 8163)

The perspective shifted between the various notebooks and the overall story narrative. When I realized that it reminded me a bit of The Who’s Quadrophenia. I couldn’t follow that, either.

While hard to understand, I did like a number of things about the novel. The insight into the creative mind of an author (the yellow notebook) enlightened me. It left me with some insights into how the mind of this Nobel Laureate came up with ideas.

On a personal level, I’ve always thought communism the most ridiculous political philosophy ever developed. It made me glad to see the author abandoned it by the time of this 1962 release. The following statement appeared in the novel.

Very few people care about freedom, about liberty, about the truth, very few. Very few people have the guts, the kind of guts on which a real democracy has to depend. Without people with that sort of guts a free society dies or cannot be born. (Location 9622)

I’m glad Ms. Lessing realized that and abandoned Marxism.

While I had trouble comprehending how their adventures related to one another, I thought the characters very well drawn. I especially liked Anna Wulf. The line, “It seems to me that if I can achieve some sort of self-discipline, instead of aimless reading, aimless thinking, I can defeat my depression.” (Location 9408) From the way the author structured the novel, I don’t think Anna did.

All-in-all I’d classify The Golden Notebook as a very complicated read, and extremely hard to understand. Now that I have a background and know the framework of the story better, I would be willing to read it once again. I might keep a journal while doing so. Who knows? When I finish, I may have enough material for a golden notebook of my own.