Thursday, February 28, 2013

Super-Review #2

Another super-review of stuff that I can't write whole reviews of. Fun!

Swann's Way
The Quest for Literature continues! This is one of those books that is supposed to be so important, etc., that I was glad I finally read it (and I confess, I don't think I would have finished the book if I hadn't been required to read it). This is my first experience with stream of consciousness, and I have to say that I was not a fan. Things shift rapidly from event to event (which I understand is the point), but the overwhelming amount of detail made me turn off my brain--I'd read an entire page of the novel without actually comprehending a single word and would then have to read it all over again. It was a very frustrating experience. The "Swann in Love" section was the star part of the book, lessening the pressure to follow a consciousness stream so heavily and allowing Proust to demonstrate his prowess at character creation: he really takes the time to flesh out Swann and Odette and as a social satire and love story, it is stunning. If only the whole book had been this way.
My rating: 3/5

Jacob's Room
Another experiment with stream of consciousness. My problem with this Woolf text (my first!) is almost exactly opposite to the Proust novel: Swann's Way features mind-numbing detail about every event and sensory experiment and it overwhelms. Jacob's Room, conversely, is an exercise in taking out all of this detail. We are presented with fractured snippets of conversation and thought and there's nothing to anchor us to them. How can we care about what's going on if we can't understand who is thinking/speaking or why it matters? It's an interesting attempt to capture experiences like walking through a room full of people (one that succeeds), but it fails as a cohesive novel. Woolf's writing is beautiful and enchanting, but it's not enough to make up for how incomplete it feels.
My rating: 3/5

Fables, Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland
Another volume of Fables. Like volume 17, it was good but not great. We are focused again on some of Bigby and Snow's children; one of them ends up in the land of misfit toys and becomes the queen. The story certainly had potential to be interesting--there are some great thematics with regression and animalistic behavior and abandonment--but as is the case with a great many story lines in the Fables series, it gets dropped before it has a chance to really develop. Everything gets wrapped up by the end of the volume (which features some interesting Fisher King symbolism that I would have appreciated being used more heavily than it was; in its context, it felt more like a name drop than something intended to stir in the reader strong emotion), but I think the material here could have been sustained for several volumes. Special "hooray" for making me interested in the cubs (as I've mentioned before, one of my issues with the Fables comics is the increasing reliance on characters that aren't original fairy tales, which kind of goes against the purpose of the series).
My rating: 4/5

Passing
I had never heard of this Nella Larsen novella, nor had I heard of Nella Larsen. Apparently she was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance and this was one of the few things she published in her lifetime. I had no expectations for Passing, which is about the practice of "passing" for white. What I encountered was a book that was beautifully written, featuring a fascinating premise and some realistic, heartbreaking characters. For such a short text, Larsen is able to do some serious psychological exploration. Passing is breathtaking.
My rating: 5/5

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
I do not recommend reading lots of Tennessee Williams plays in succession; many of his plays feature similar themes or plot devices rearranged over and over and reading these variations back to back is tiresome because the repetition is obvious (I do not recommend reading every John Green book at once for the same reason). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof features the "gay husband/unhappy marriage" trope that appears first (and more subtly with greater effect) in A Streetcar Named Desire. Maggie and Brick are married, but Brick is mourning the loss of his friend/lover Skipper. The events of the play happen during Big Daddy's birthday party, one that will effectively be his last. The characters of this play are quite memorable, and despicable at times; characterization is the high point of this Williams play. The story of Maggie the Cat and Brick Pollitt is interesting, sure, but it just feels done before.
My rating: 4/5

Suddenly, Last Summer
This Williams play features a more interesting premise (by which I mean a nondomestic setting): Sebastian has mysteriously died while in Europe with his cousin Catharine. Her story does not sit well with Violet, Sebastian's mother, and she sets out to get Catharine lobotomized. The play is a very interesting mixture of psychological study and mythological allusion and is one of those works that's actually better as a movie. I recommend this and its film version (with Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn).
My rating: 4/5

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