Tag Archives: literature

Comparing Cities in ‘Let the Great World Spin’ and ‘A Man of the People’

Civilizations exist, but they are difficult to build and maintain. Two books demonstrating this statement are ‘A Man of the People,’ by Chinua Achebe, and ‘Let the Great World Spin’ by Colum McCann. The fictionalized city traversed by our main character, Diligent, in the former book, is a tenuous seed capable of growing. Through the narrative, Achebe describes the impossibility of such advancement due to both government failures and citizen indifference:

Max began by accusing the outgoing Government of all kinds of swindling and corruption… many in the audience laughed… the laughter of resignation to misfortune. The ex-policeman put it very well. “We know they are eating,” he said, “but we are eating too.” (Achebe, pp. 125)

The setting of the former book is a reversal from ‘A Man of the People.’ McCann delves into multiple characters inhabiting New York City during 1974. Philippe Peitt’s daredevil tightrope stroll between the twin towers serves as a loose framing device. The alternating reactions of the ensemble cast to this event serves as an exploration of their faith. The Catholic Monk believes it to be sign from God, while the experienced Judge is amused. The performance of Petit is a living representation of Manhattan’s magical undercurrent, the mysterious energy pulsing beneath the architectural achievement and ceaseless commerce. Why are freaks drawn here, to create beauty? And does a small spark of that beauty settle inside the people walking the streets, no matter where they came from?

New York City, as an idea, is the completed crown jewel of western civilization, the answer to a mathematical equation adding together wealth, location, freedom, endless death and constant birth. But the free market’s child had been abandoned during the era in which ‘Let the Great World Spin’ unwinds. Citywide debt and rising crime engendered a sense of helplessness among citizens, the hopelessness unique to this specific moment, when both the national and local government seemed unable to implement solutions. The character of Solomon Soderberg, the father of a son killed in Viet Nam, and a weathered judge in the New York judicial system, finds himself taking an existential viewpoint, identifying the city as an entity unable to pause:

New York had a way of doing that… It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief… it happened, and it re-happened, because it was a city uninterested in history. Strange things occurred because there was no necessary regard for the past… no, the city couldn’t care less where it stood. New York kept going forward because it didn’t give a good goddamn about what it left behind. It was like a city that Lot left, and it would dissolve if it ever began looking backward over its own shoulder. (McCann, pp. 247)

Even the bloody late eighties saw embattled Mayor David Dinkins enacting new tactics for the police force, aiding a decline in crime during his final months in office, and providing Rudolph Giuliani with enough momentum to corporatize Times Square. The continuing collapse of the murder rate, along with the nineties’ boom economy, allowed Giuliani to preside over the city’s renewal:

“Dinkins faced a very sharp economic downturn, and he was in the very difficult position of coming in with high expectations from many constituencies,” said John H. Mollenkopf, a political science professor at the City University Graduate Center. “Yet he expanded the police force and rebuilt neighborhoods; he deserves more credit than he gets for managing that time…” Mr. Dinkins’s most lasting achievement might have been in the very area where he now fares worst in popular memory. He obtained the State Legislature’s permission to dedicate a tax to hire thousands of police officers, and he fought to preserve a portion of that anticrime money to keep schools open into the evening, an award-winning initiative that kept tens of thousands of teenagers off the street. (Powell, Michael. Another Look at the Dinkins Administration, and not by Giuliani. New York Times. 25 October 2009. Online)

‘Let the Great World Spin’ takes place in the New York City of 1974, where the horizon held few such glimmers of hope. Considering the blackout riot in ’77, and the tumultuous eighties, one could argue the worst only got worse. An understandable desire to escape strengthened the developing suburbs, and also rustic upstate. The great fleeing is excellently represented in the book’s narrative through Blaine and his wife Lara, two burnt Greenwich Village veterans of the late night shadow show, who seek refuge in a cabin:

In 1973 Blaine and I had swapped our lives in the Village for another life altogether, and we went to live in a cabin in upstate New York. We had been almost a year off the drugs, even a few months off the booze, until the night before the accident… we were returning to the old grandma notion of sitting on the porch swing and watching the poison disappear from our bodies… Had lived without electricity, read books from another era, finished our paintings in the style of the time, hid ourselves away, saw ourselves as reclusive, cutting edge, academic. (McCann pp. 118, 120)

Lara ultimately finds happiness by delving deeper into the troubled city she has abandoned, unable to wash her hands of a crime committed by Blaine. Her conscious decision to get involved with the life of a stranger, Carian, the brother of a man accidentally killed by her husband in a car accident – is made more poignant by the signification that she is no longer denying her place in time. McCann delivers this message clearly by invoking time during the conversation where Lara and Blaine fallout over the accident:

-What happens if we make a series of paintings and leave them out in the weather? We allow the present to work on the past. We could do something radical here. Do the formal paintings in the style of the past and have the present destroy them….

-The girl died, Blaine. (McCann, pp. 134)

The novel’s structure, which extended from the seventies into the contemporary time period, displayed the unpredictable effects of complicated decisions, rippling through decades. Cities change, and at the same time, they do not change, and the same could be true for people. Instead of searching the surface for altered behaviors that could be traced to the past, ‘Let the Great World Spin’ seems to argue for a better gauge, reflected through relationships. How did one person touch the life of another? And where does it lead? The dream of civilization is an imperfect monster, crushing thousands incidentally, helping a few intentionally, and housing all the others like science experiment creatures, witnessing their world through the eyes they own.

Diligent, real name Odili, belongs to the first generation of post-colonial Africa. Colonialism was not only terrible for human rights abuses, but also from a practical, state building standpoint. The tyrannical interference set the entire region backward. Just as a single human being would be developmentally blocked by a controlling, outside influence, so too was an entire country:

Just the assumption that the previous patterns of political development would continue is sufficient to argue that these countries would be more developed today. Colonialism not only blocked further political development, but indirect rule made local elites less accountable to their citizens. After independence, even if these states had a coherence others lacked, they had far more predatory rulers. These polities also suffered from the uniform colonial legacies of racism, stereotypes and misconceptions that Africans may not have had and which have since caused immense problems, most notably in Burundi and Rwanda. (Heldring, Lester. Robinson, James, A. Colonialism and Development in Africa. VOX. 10 January 2013. Online)

Of course, the complicated question emerging from freedom: who deserves to create the new world? The militaristic rule emerging from colonialism forced citizens to accept a compromised, and ultimately ineffective governance:

The history of police and military formations in several parts of the world can be traced to the need to protect citizens and ensure territorial integrity. Conversely, in the case of Africa, the police and military were established primarily to crush civilian opposition to colonial rule. Police engagement with the populace was founded on the need to enforce hateful and debilitating colonial laws, including forced taxation, segregation, and quelling of anti-colonial uprisings. At the end of colonialism, the newly independent African government inherited institutions that had internalized a culture of citizen oppression and extortion. The immediate post-colonial police and military were designed to inflict terror on innocent citizens, and citizens had internalized the art of buying their way off unwarranted harassment. (Origin of Corrupton in Africa and the Way Forward. Anonymous. ChikaforAfrica.com. 21 August 2012)

Odili intellectually understands the corruption of the new government, but initially has the discipline not to be swayed emotionally. The novel portrays him as a reasonable person, seemingly only enflamed by the politics of women, a trait that both serves the narrative and makes him an empathetic figure for males attracted to girls. Diligent’s quick witted, humorous, and generally clarion disposition in the opening pages are quite effective at distancing the western reader from the potentially dangerous setting. One comes to understand the setting is less dangerous for people behaving like Diligent. His early behavioral stability is not only a likable character trait, but a self-protection mechanism, too. Diligent begins as an entrenched teacher more concerned with the obnoxious flattery of his superior, the school principal and proprietor Mr. Nwege, attempting to impress the visiting local minister Chief Nanga, than any political ideals. He’d been involved with a student’s branch of a reformist minded political organization while attending college, but became discouraged by both corruption and the people’s inability to discern the truth about their constantly lying leaders:

Chief Nanga was a born politician: he could get away with almost anything he said or did. And as long as men are swayed by their hearts and stomachs and not their heads the Chief Nangas of this world will continue to get away with anything… he had that rare gift of making people feel – even when he was saying harsh things to them – that there was not a drop of ill will in his entire frame. (Achebe, pp. 66)

Unstable societies such as the one described in ‘A Man of the People’ will challenge their citizens in a different way than New York City. The phrase that serves as the title for Achebe’s book could apply to politicians across all regions. Americans running for political office will wear masks carefully pieced together by public relations firms, designed to connect with voters on surface levels. However, the brilliance in Achebe’s exploration of this phrase, within the context of a post-colonial Africa, could be found in the immediate pages of the novel. The reader observes Odili while he observes Chief Nanga, his former teacher treated like a returning king. Achebe does not break into a long explanation that summarizes why the two will eventually be personal and political rivals. The reader is only made to understand that a fragile system creates turbulent social, political, and personal identities. Nanga has gone from being a teacher to wielding power. The equivalent of Odili, in a place like America, most likely would not rationally see himself assuming the power of Nanga, without a fortuitous break or the decision to pursue politics as a career. But in post-colonial Africa, the lines are thinner. Herein resides the realistic and literary value of the Nanga character being a former teacher, the current job for Odili. The phrase ‘the student becomes the teacher,’ is universally understandable, and effectively conveys, even to western readers without any knowledge of the region, the close proximity between Diligent and his old teacher, despite them leading incredibly different lives.

Life shows that the actions of people are often driven by both their perceived opportunities and boundaries. In ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ all the major players have either been molded by the city, or are being changed, the permanence of both processes beyond their conception. Despite all the dysfunction, the city remains a container, not a blank space. Corrigan, arguably the most important character in the novel, his daily presence in the Bronx influencing events far past his death, came to New York from Ireland on a priestly mission. The city is somewhere to go, a complicated, sometimes dangerous, sometimes beautiful, sometimes unbearable reality, but a reality above anything. When a city and state can barely function on a daily basis, controlled by soldiers disconnected from the citizens they are supposed to serve, without any semblance of a local economy beyond dependence on foreign product, while also lacking the infrastructure to support such dependence, this setting could be labeled as more of an existential problem than a real place. Human beings delineate the real and unreal through the methods that constitute routine. When the roads aren’t being built, when the schools aren’t being funded, when the generals sleep in mansions and feel poisoned after drinking a different brand of coffee, certain dissidents will step forward and want to change the situation. In this respect, for all the flaws of New York City, the character of Judge Soderberg, in ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ seems to demonstrate the human ability to move forward within the chaotic system. He is a Judge, and in a certain sense, he is everyday in New York City. He is the exhausted force continually pushing back against chaos, the shaky hand flipping the calendar. But what would a man like Solomon Soderberg do, if he were in Diligent’s situation? A man like Soderberg would attempt to create a place over which he could preside. Diligent eventually believes he must oppose Chief Nanga. Similar to Lara, he realizes that different surroundings (in his case, Nanga’s mansion, where he is an invited guest) have caused him to deny the reality of his setting (the unnamed state). And also similar to Lara, his awakening occurs due to a personal incident. Chief Nanga seduces his girlfriend, Elsie. At last, Odili registers what has been stirring within him throughout the entire novel, to that point. Chief Nanga, and his brethren, cannot build the new world. He must. In life and fiction, setting is often destiny, and different people can be surmised to come from different places.

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Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III

After reading ‘Dirty Love,’ I’d have to say Andre Dubus III is a master of immediacy. But he’s also unique in making memory immediate, too. Usually in prose, even in great works, there’s a noticeable sag while describing the past, as if the moment had affected the character but had also become inflexible, a fixed proposition. Because Dubus maintains the intensity of his sensory descriptions while describing the past, we are treated to a double awareness of a character’s circumstances that does not quarantine memory. I realize after reading ‘Dirty Love’ that I have probably written scenes that treated memory like a trial exhibit instead of something alive. It’s not so much what a character can say after describing a memory, but how they can behave! To let the reader know they are attempting to break a mold the past had cast. Or that they have succumbed to the allure of external perception masquerading as identity. Especially in the last novella, we see characters communicating with their past through a behavior in the present. I guess we could do this automatically from a basic storytelling standpoint, (I think writing detailed scenes and getting to know your characters will bring up this depth naturally, even if there’s no specific intention other than putting forward an honest effort) but the simmering and subsequent explosion of memory, identity, decisions and consequences for characters in this book was remarkable to me.


Always

Wild, desperate delicate 
Whispers disappearing into a 
Ice cold lifeless wintry 
Wind swept evening 

Man staggers down abandoned 
Boulevard while caressing empty liquor 
Bottle which once provided comfort 
But can no longer stop the bleeding 

The road is free and haunted 
By blind empty shadows 
Auras jet black and messages 
Disfigured and seething 

To human communicate between some invisible 
Line separating love and death 
Fears of madness and mystery 
True poetry floating and breathing 

It’s difficult to truly devour this miracle 
In the cruel face of vicious gusts 
And indifferent icicles perched perilous 
Above the innocent teething 

Machinelike stoplight switching 
Colors without another soul in sight 
Fantasy is reality and eternity questions 
If the awoken are still dreaming 

As the guard ponders prison 
Trapped within one broken shard 
Of time transcending darkness 
And creation seeming 

Put the alcohol away the numbing 
Is unnecessary considering our inherent freedom 
To decide if there is reason or rhyme 
In this song of seasons leading 

Consider whether love may profit in the 
Face of life eternally extinguished 
Entered into space only to be nullified 
Lost to the ages no longer starlight beaming 

Consider whether the good is morally 
Acceptable in a world where death ultimately 
Conquers all and the illusion of legacy is 
Established through technological toy scheming 

We are a nation of self-deprecation 
Unable to appreciate consciousness as sacred 
Beyond sight and sound shining through 
The dollar life’s permanent transit 
Unfolding before temporarily beleaguered eyes 
Obscuring a sunrise indeed we are 
Alive 
We are alive 
And what is alive 
Is always—Always


Enclosure

There was a man walking down the street–He was wearing a long black overcoat –Feet underneath rushing along cracked cement –Holding three boxes stacked one over another –The tops nearly falling off –He stumbled attempting to maintain balance –Mumbling about manuscripts and broken promises–The day was fading and the clouds were a fine shade of gray –He was approaching a dead-end –That doubled as a view to the nearby harbor –No one could deny the sea was black–Rejecting reflection–He reached his destination –The waves were violent –Cascading and exploding –Suggesting a riptide –Paradox and death without answers –He asked a question, quietly, to himself–He wasn’t even meant to hear–It was then he dropped the boxes –Onto the cold damp ground –Pages spilled forth –Pouring ceaseless –The work of a lifetime –Flying into the wind –The man raised his arms –Amidst the swirling stationary–Disappeared entirely absorbed–Finally finding truth–In the final chapter–Of a book that he could never get published.

There was a woman running through a forest –Past rotting tree stumps and protruding drain lines –She was wearing black dress — Flinging a wedding ring without slowing her pace–Her soul could escape upward and explode –A celestial firework show –A new constellation –The flowers gazed –When they whispered she often listened –It was too late for thoughts–Reconciliation a foregone station–Beyond betrayed surface waves–Belonging to another’s mind sea–She came to the edge of a cliff–Legs still churning before stopping–Her heart slowed by the sight of a sunset–The streams flowing down her face –Evaporated in pure orange–She eyed the sky–Admiring fractured cloud strands leading to a rainbow–It was then she begin to spin–Beyond the speed of light—A transforming window–An ethereal entryway—Through which joy may be delivered–And peace discovered–As nature leapt forth from her trail–There was a sun shower–That left the town delirious.

There was a teenager–Who breathed hellfire fumes–From his perch on the tenement fire escape–He saw a world disintegrating–While nobody seemed to care–About the contagious apocalypse–Armageddon and daily judgment night–When street heroes would be slain–By those who both worshipped and loathed them–Amid this chaos and confusion–Order was a crime–Intelligence a weakness–For his whole life–All the teenager wanted were friends–He had a father who hit him–And a mother who was dead–Dad was hardly around–Unfolding his own transient legend–The cement hearted brigade–Dying in violent red flashes –Same as they lived–The teenager had seen the shadow of death and felt a light inside resisting–His proud heart was a shield–His fragile ego a trap–He was willing to let go–If only he had a home–Of his own–Away from the sad comforting laughter–Of familiar doomed friends–They were playing a game–On a hot summer afternoon–When tempers flared –Strangers turned a rival faction– Kids mutating into temporary sentries–Drawing cannons–Acceptable insanity–The teenager in the middle–As he had always anticipated–How many days had he thought of it–Practically tasted it–Alone in his tiny room–Gazing through a cracked window–Squinting against broken shards of sun –At a crumbling empire beyond repair–But before the revolver could fire–It was then he was lifted off the ground–Some sort of never ending underlying love–Carried him away–On a gold carpet he saw in vague dreams–That felt like they lasted years–It let off light unbearably bright–Soon enveloped and gone–With its passenger–Free from the enclosure.

 


NYC Culture Beat: Volume One: Fiction Addiction Reading Series

by Matt Waters 

Mitch Levenberg read first, and the author shared a story about delusion. Featuring a desperate protagonist obsessed with a bank teller who ultimately may not even exist, his tale, called ‘Ellipses,’ fits within this literary gathering’s selected theme, that being ‘March Madness.’

 

The other works featured this evening will also concern characters driven toward unknown currencies. Intimacy issues, aging, death, sickness, and love decayed permeate through the spoken pages. But it is to the great credit of each participating author that the darkness discussed never seems inescapable. The besieged characters burst with humanity. And even if the gravest inconveniences of reality could not be overcome, in their assessment resided a small victory.

 

 The event is called ‘Fiction Addiction.’ It takes place on the final Tuesday of every month, at a bar called 2A. 2A is located on the southwest corner of second street and avenue A, and proud alumni of the space cadet program* may find it quite serendipitous that a bar with this name would be located at that exact location.

 

 The establishment has two floors, and the readings take place on the upper-level. There is a wide space in the front of the room, allowing for a pulpit and microphone stand, from where the literature mingles with spoken word. In addition there’s a sizable couch, which appears quite comfortable. That is prime positioning. Late arrivers may be relegated to the back, but it’s far from a raw deal. There’s a fully equipped bar, a decent number of stools, and the readings come through crystal clear acoustically, no matter where one ultimately lands. The space can be described as cozy, without being crowded. On a scale from one to general admission at terminal five**, with the latter representing an assault on the lounging soul, the comfort level is satisfying.

 

http://fictionaddiction.org/

 

So, settled, and perhaps with a beer in hand, the true purpose of the evening may be explored. And that is, of course, to hear words forming narratives, and narratives becoming relatable, delivered by inspiring people. Talented young writer Christine Vines coordinates and publicizes this event, introducing the authors throughout the night.

 

 Relating to characters is not necessarily the most important task for a reader, or in this case, a listener. Being affected by their thoughts and actions is paramount, though if one looks deep within, even when weighing the actions of deranged, fictional people, we can identify our own delusions.

 

What often makes characters interesting is their refusal to reassess a plan. We can understand an initial thought, even a few false moves. But when a character sinks into a broth of their own derangement, the result, if delivered effectively, is engaging, as if witnessing a single car accident occur in slow motion, the details painstakingly analyzed and filed into plain manila folders for a later date.

In a strange way, feeling superior to a character could help us tap into certain personal attitudes that we may not be particularly conscious about, most of the time. That is quality fiction.

 

 And this what the aforementioned ‘Ellipses’ does so effectively. We can all relate to having a crush, or at least a fleeting thought about someone, a possible relationship for instance, which is so obviously unrealistic that it is dismissed almost immediately by our thought processes. Unfortunately for the protagonist in ‘Ellipses,’ all of his processes lead him further into a tunnel, where the light is teller number seven at the local bank, and their future together destined. The endearing aspect about this protagonist, and the way Levenberg presented this story, is that the character did not fit into stereotypical obsessive molds. At the climax, when his quest has proved futile, future revealed bleak, the character spirals into a demented type of realization, that he prefers the fantasy, to a reality where his only companionship is a goldfish. Before this fitting dénouement, however, Levenberg’s character thirsts for contact so basic that there was essentially never a chance for him to be disappointed by anything the teller did, or even did not do. Cognitive dissonance certainly applies, yet the effects of lowered expectations are undeniable. We see a character accepting meaninglessness. The ironic tragedy is that he applies meaning to a ‘relationship’ that truly was meaningless, in every literal sense of the word, instead of trying to get help or reconnecting with family.

 

Madness, though, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When it becomes apparent that the bank teller was not real, the protagonist becomes unable to handle reality. The character had spent hours decoding a letter he believed from the teller, regarding his account, yet supposedly saying so much more, between the ellipses. The conclusion is brutal, yet honest, and the style in which the story was written invites the reader to eavesdrop on this troubled mind, not become tricked or even surprised by it. 

 

http://mlevenberg.blogspot.com/

 

Ann Napolitano shared some personal history before reading an excerpt of her novel ‘A Good Hard Look.’ She had been working diligently on a book about Melvin Whiteson, a wealthy character seeking self-discovery within a period specific New York City social scene. On his quest, Melvin finds only continued disillusionment.

 

The rudderless nature of Melvin was affecting the overall narrative structure of the project. Napolitano was experiencing difficulty really digging into the story. Approaching a critical point where the project may have had to be abandoned, she suddenly received the inspiration to include one of her literary heroes, Flannery O’Connor, in the narrative. Melvin would finally find a purpose, in this new story, where he and Flannery cross paths in Milledgeville, Georgia, her hometown. Flannery had been diagnosed with lupus, forced to return back to family farm, after achieving literary fame in New York.

 

Napolitano had a personal stake in this story for a variety of reasons. She had read O’Connor while getting her English degree. At the time Napolitano was fighting an illness that would take her multiple years to overcome.  She related to O’Connor’s brave battle against lupus. In the face of death, O’Connor had chosen to chase greatness. Her life choices spiritually stirred Napolitano, and helped shape her into a novelist. Even still, Napolitano had never imagined that she would include O’Connor in a novel. She worked doubly hard on the project after this decision, and the book has received rave reviews. (Four and a half stars from consumers on Amazon.com, for instance)

 

In the excerpt she read, there was a particularly touching sequence where Melvin, the New Yorker, becomes stone-frozen fascinated upon his first sight of a peacock. In fact, he looks, ‘scared and disoriented.’ It was memorable imagery, and a reflection on all the different emotions that beauty can make one feel. How different people will react to something beautiful in different ways, nobody right or wrong. Their consciousness of the beauty matters more. That could be one of the drives behind ‘A Good Hard Look.’

 

http://annnapolitano.com/     (pssst. That site is awesome)

Paul Lisicky read three bubbling short stories that are part of a collection. The language that Lisicky employs while writing is quite interesting. It veers on the poetic, focusing on specific sights and sounds, as if the physicality of objects and settings possess some type of unified rhythm under the surface. The language is free flowing.

 

The first story was ‘Bulldog.’ The interior machinations of a loyal pet are examined. The bulldog is much smarter than he appears. He knows, with dire specificity, what his owner needs. The most fascinating lines involved a process the bulldog had mastered, whereupon he purified his owner, as she slept. The bulldog is much smarter than he appears, and he prefers it that way. His intelligence may stem from living completely, and totally, in the moment, which we as human beings struggle so mightily to do. The bulldog eventually leaves the owner through a crack of light. It could be interpreted that he has given up on the owner, choosing independence instead. Perhaps though, this bulldog, and all dogs, are so brilliant because they are aware of their freedom, and live for the glory in seconds that we casually dismiss. So, he does not need to leave the owner to be free, which could be why dogs do not leave us. He is free, already, and is such a good friend because he attempts sharing that freedom, instead of possessing it.

 

The second story, ‘Winston and the Ocean,’ was touching as well, because it served as a reminder about love. We actively complicate ourselves. The most important thing, however, usually stays the same, inside of us, through all of our lives. Love does not change its schedule; it does not seek escape through medication, over the counter or otherwise. Love is pure. It is the truest side of us. When we lose touch with that love inside, life becomes muddled and almost impossible to navigate without making serious errors in judgment. ‘Winston and the Ocean’ detailed the protagonist’s close connection with the water. He is a body-boarder, who genuinely loved the sea, ever since it had been his escape from a troublesome childhood. Winston finds his appreciation for the sea waning. After taking drugs, in an attempt to reconnect with his childhood, Winston instead is throttled by waves he probably could ride with ease, if sober. He drinks the saltwater. All the while, he is searching for the child he used to be, and the mother who didn’t give him all the love he deserved. It was a moving story, told kaleidoscopically, through a melding of the present and past.

 

Lisicky’s third story packed a similar punch. It also dealt directly with reality. ‘The protagonist in ‘The Visitors’ is Sr. Barbara. A progressive nun, to the point where she slipped condoms into the hands of passing-by sophomores on campus, the story begins as she confronts the cruel specter of death. In a manner befitting her iconoclastic viewpoints, the supposed pleasantries of dying, being surrounded by lifelong friends, for instance, are greeted with derision. For all her kindness, Sr. Barbara sees herself as replaceable upon her death, just another brick. The wonder of the story arrives when Sr. Barbara, upon reflecting, begins to see beauty, even in this seemingly desolate viewpoint. If beauty could be found in a dump truck emptying it’s contents, one of many powerful images in the story, then surely it could be found within her own life, and friends, and experiences.  And anger, too.

 

http://paullisicky.blogspot.com/

 

Meg Wolitzer read an excerpt from her book, ‘The Uncoupling.’ The focus of these passages involved Dory and Robby, two long married English teachers, who to this point had enjoyed a happy marriage, marked by passion. However, Dory is not immune to a spell sweeping over her New Jersey town, wherein women lose passion for being intimate with the men in their lives. A particularly hilarious section of this reading involved the two playing a sex suggestion game, the difficulties of maintaining an attraction to one partner for a significant (and sometimes endless) period of time underlining the witty observations and humor. Robby eventually buys a product called ‘the comfy,’ a bathrobe for two. This purchase represents an admission that the couple can no longer produce the emotional comfort they had previously attained with unconscious ease, before the spell touched their lives. In order not to leave the audience on a totally down note, Wolitzer closed with a happier passage from later in the book, where Robby and Dory are in a position to watch the comfy burn – but can’t. It’s nonflammable.

 

http://megwolitzer.com/

 

(For more on the culture scene in New York, stop by this blog in the coming weeks and months)

 

*I got my degree in 1987.

 

**Another article for another day 

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