Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Journey in the Dark

Finished Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943. Set in and around the Chicago area from the turn of the 20th century until midway through World War II, this is a marvelous coming-of-age/family saga novel.

Sam Braden does not know that his family is poor until he doesn't receive a hoped for new sled for Christmas one year. His older sister impatiently scolds his disappointment. From that moment on he works hard to change his own as well as his family's circumstances.

There were parts of this novel that reminded me a lot of the film Citizen Kane. Sam Braden and Charles Foster Kane have sentimental recollections of their boyhood sleds. Both men become influential in their time and build estates with luxurious appointments. Both find that these material possessions hold little to no value in the end. Sam is a better man than Charles. He is never so great that he does not see the plight of those with less than him. He is kindly, generous and ultimately forgiving of people who have wronged him throughout his life. I really enjoyed this book and am adding it to my list of favorite Pulitzer winners. This book also won the Harper Prize in 1943. Other previous Pulitzer winners which also won the Harper Prize are The Able McLaughlins and Honey in the Horn.

Out of Africa

Finished Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, aka Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke. It's a memoir of her life in Africa on her coffee plantation. She is a marvelous storyteller, capturing the characters of those around her with warmth and richness. The prose is at times gorgeous and at others gruesome. I listened to an audiobook recording of the work, read by Julie Christie. Christie's voice was perfect for this piece. Listening on my iPod, I often found myself smiling at the juxtaposition of listening to Dinesen's descriptions of the African landscape while I was standing at the bus stop, in the early morning dark, with ice crystals pelting me in the face.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anna Karenina

Finished Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Finally. I began reading the novel last July in anticipation of the film's release in November. I had originally planned, for no no good reason, to read it when I turn 50, but the planned film released trumped that idea by two years. Since I only read a chapter or two a day here and there it ended up taking me ten months. This does not reflect on the quality of the novel, only on my lack of focus. In many ways it reads lake any other Victorian novel. It's clear to see that Russian society at the time was obsessed with all things French and some things British.

The large cast of characters includes everyone from the Fool (Oblonsky) to the Angel (Kitty). Anna herself seems a bit angelic at first, acting as mediator between her philandering brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly, who is the epitome of motherhood. However, once Anna meets Count Vronsky her character and fate are changed forever.

Anna's infidelity and downward spiral reminded me a bit of Irene Forsyte's path in The Forsyte Saga, another sweeping epic with as many characters as a Russian novel. However, Irene proved a much stronger character than Anna, and luckily had more sympathy from others. Anna herself becomes such an unsympathetic character that I grew weary of her. I found Konstantin Levin far more interesting, three dimensional and cerebrally encouraging. Towards the end of the novel he questions his very existence and considers ending it all, but then has an epiphany, and while disappointed at first that the world does not now glow with meaning and goodness, he has the courage to go on and appreciate all it has to offer.

The 2012 film version of the novel was very cleverly staged within a theater, calling to mind the lines from As You Like It, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances." So true with this novel. However, while reading the book over all those months it was Vivian Leigh's face and voice, from the scintillating 1948 Alexander Korda production of the film, that I pictured and heard in my head.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Woman in Black

Finished The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, originally published in 1983. I had some time to kill last Saturday, so I was browsing the fiction shelves at the public library, looking for something intriguing and slender to read. I happened upon the binding of this book and recognized the author's name. I pulled the book down and found an upholstered chair to sit in. It wasn't until I glanced at the cover as I opened the book that I realized that it was a movie tie-in edition for the film version starring Daniel Radcliffe, which came out last year. Oh well, I'd read it anyway.

The book was good, the murky, marshy, quicksandy godforsaken end-of-the-earth setting reminded me of The Moonstone by Wilke Collins. The first person traveling narrative reminded me of the voice of Doctor Watson narrating the various adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The woman in black, seen in the distance reminded me of the ghost of the governess in James' The Turn of the Screw. I make these comparisons as compliments. They made the book feel like an old friend. I read it in a few days while I was at home with another bout of shingles. Perhaps not as terrifying as the jacket implies, but a good gothic read nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant

Finished Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant. Cary Grant was sixty-two when Jennifer was born to him and his then wife Diane Cannon. He had retired from film making and applied himself to parenthood with great thought and tenderness. Jennifer's book is peppered with photos and notes typed by her father, things he wanted her to know or remember. Also included are little transcripts from his recordings of his interactions with Jennifer as a small child.

Jennifer's meandering stream of consciousness suits the story she has to tell. It's genuine and human, just like her father. This is a very personal tribute that no biographer could possibly pull off. But Jennifer has. Bravo.