Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Super-Review #4

The Call of the Wild
I was excited to read this book because it's one of those ones that I should have read years ago. All I knew was that there were dogs and Alaska involved. That seemed like enough to make the book exciting. Instead, it was dull. There are passages of engaging writing (mostly describing Alaska), but the book, which is really short, felt a little too padded. Buck is kind of frustrating as a narrator because he's so malleable. How can I sympathize with a character if he changes his personality every few pages? I know that this book and others by Jack London were mired in controversy about realistically portraying animals (it even involved Teddy Roosevelt, seriously), so I couldn't tell if this was supposed to be an "accurate" rendition of a dog's mind, but it didn't work for me.
My rating: 3/5

Sweet Bird of Youth
Approaching the end of my Tennessee Williams readings! Hooray! This one is about an aging actress and her gigolo, who is trying to blackmail her for a chance at stardom and a way to get his ladylove (to whom he gives a venereal disease) out of the small Southern town he's from. It was pretty good, mostly because of Alexandra del Lago (the aging actress, who is even more fun in the film in Geraldine Page's more-than-capable hands), but as with any text (visual or written) with an aging actress in it, I am going to unconsciously compare it to Sunset Boulevard and it is not going to hold up to that scrutiny. This play is markedly more fun than some other Williams plays and is probably among the better plays that explores youth (which, as a theme, appears in almost every play he wrote).
My rating: 4/5

Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela
This Elena Poniatowska novella (short story? pretend biography? I just don't even know) was actually kind of bad. The idea is that the letters are written to Diego Rivera from his first wife, Angelina Beloff, but it's puzzling because Poniatowska chooses to fictionalize the letters. What ends up happening is twelve letters of whining and irritating, clingy behavior. I hope that Quiela was not nearly so annoying in real life. Yes, it's horrible your child died but can you please stop talking about it (jeez I'm such a mean guy).
My rating: 2/5

This is my second experience with Virginia Woolf. My previous, Jacob's Room, did not go so well. The entire thing was a little too experimental to be coherent or accessible and I often felt frustrated rather than pleased. This book is experimental, too, in that it is a fictionalized biography about Emily Barrett Browning's dog, Flush, which is based at least in part on her letters. However experimental the concept of the novel is, Woolf stays away from wacky narrative methods and lets her beautiful writing run free. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, which serves up a literal story about a dog that I grew to care about and as an allegory for class stratification. I mean, everyone loves books from the perspective of dogs, right?
My rating: 4/5

The Night of the Iguana
Seriously in the running for my least favorite of the Williams plays (it's between this one and Orpheus Descending). This time we have a disgraced reverend turned tour guide taking a bus full of women to Mexico. He has started drinking again and has been lately mired in a scandal involving a young woman parishioner and so decides to visit one of his old haunts, a hotel run by one of his friends. It's interesting for a while, but then the play goes off the rails as Tennessee Williams lets his philosophy take over; the last half of the play is nothing more than a giant dialogue that wonders about life. It's a little too overdone and preachy--something I refer to as "coming down from the mountain of wisdom to preach the gospel of truth and righteousness"--and it's boring. The characters aren't constructed in a way that I have any feeling for them. I just did not care.
My rating: 3/5

The Metamorphosis
Gregor Samsa wakes up and he's actually a bug. And his family is kind of cool with it. At least, they don't kick him out. This isn't my first time reading this novel(la?), and I have mixed feelings about it. Certainly it's an interesting text, but I'm never really sure if I like it. I think the allegorical nature of Gregor's transformation makes for a long, varied and wildly interesting discussion, but that doesn't mean I was particularly interested in what happened to Gregor. I enjoyed reading about him having to re-adjust to being a bug (it's the weird/sad humor Kafka is wonderful at creating), but the characters just did not capture my attention like I felt they ought to have.
My rating: 3.5/5

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