Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salinger Month

Despite the million pop culture references to The Catcher in the Rye and J.D. Salinger I had never picked up anything by him, so this month I set out to remedy that. The book team, thanks to Nick, started with Franny and Zooey. The Glass family is a tortured lot of savants, misfits, and geniuses, and without Salinger it is apparent that there would be no Max Fischer or Tennenbaum family. Next I hit a few of the Nine Stories, specifically “For Esmé with Love and Squalor”, and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” both of which I enjoyed, especially Esmé. Lastly I read The Catcher in the Rye.

I saw pretty quickly why Salinger is as revered as he his. His ability to assume the voice of a character, to craft dialogue that is outrageous, witty, and full of humor, his balance of both lightness and darkness, adulthood and youth, are all unique. A lot of it was bildungsroman, which is perhaps why it appeals so much to the young generations. The Catcher in the Rye felt very black comedy. Holden is so full of both wisdom and flaws. He feels he’s a victim and that he’s the only one. I loved the section when Mr. Antolini tells him, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” My expectations were through the roof on this one, and I wasn’t let down, but neither was I blown away. “Don’t ever tell anyone anything,” he says. And what am I doing? I’m telling you something. That’s what I’m doing.

Franny and Zooey was my favorite, probably due to the subject matter more than the writing itself. Spirituality and religion are integral to the story, which I’m always thinking about anyway, and I was really affected by the book as it built to its redemptive, climactic end. And Zooey is so ruthless with her! This is beautiful interaction and I was moved when he told her to be God’s actress. Zooey says, “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not on anyone else’s.” How often do we approach our relationships or our art or our hobbies and all we do is try to achieve some arbitrary, socially imposed objective? And pretty soon we are pandering, in whatever it is we are doing, not to some real value, but to something false and hollow and thin. And our worship becomes that way too, and I think that is what Franny was struggling so much to come to grips with spiritually. There is always going to be some level of hypocrisy among the practitioners of any faith, and she is so fed up with phonies that she commits herself blindly and wholeheartedly to a worship she doesn’t fundamentally understand.

That’s my take, if you really want to hear about it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

No Country For Old Men

As brutal as McCarthy’s stories are, I love reading them. No Country For Old Men starts like a lightning bolt and never runs out of gas. The cast of characters in this novel are more accessible, more likeable, than in the other books of his I’ve read. The plot is a twisty weave that leaves a growing trail of dead as the pages turn. The prose seemed a lot less dense than that in Blood Meridian or All the Pretty Horses, but was still engaging. The beautiful thing about his characters is that they never say anything more than they need to. In this book they are simple folk, borderland Texans, for the most part, and the protagonist is Sheriff Bell, a beautiful elderly soul whose ruminations are the life blood of this novel. He looks back on his life and the recent events of the book , struggling to make sense of it all.

He says, “I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand. Otherwise it’d be too late. By the time you figured it out it would be too late.”

Of his wife he says, “Marryin’ her makes up for ever dumb thing I ever done. I even think I still got a few left in the account. I think I’m way in the black on that…If I didn’t have her I wouldn’t know what I’d have. Well, yes I do. You wouldn’t need a box to put it in neither.”

He says, “I think we are all of us ill-prepared for what is to come and I don’t care what shape it takes. And whatever comes my guess is that it will have small power to sustain us. These old people I talk to, if you could have told them that there would be people on the streets of our Texas towns with green hair and bones in their noses speaking a language they couldn’t even understand, well, they just flat out wouldn’t have believed you. But what if you’d of told em it was their own grandchildren?”

Well, those are the lighter moments, but I welcome a book that gives me good reasons to reflect hard on my past and to sincerely contemplate my future, not to mention that of my family or community or nation.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

An Eternal Round

Sixty three years ago to this very cold day a petite, softspoken woman labors under travail of child in a Tooele hospital that bears her same name. This is the beginning. The woman has done this four times previous and despite doctors recommendations otherwise she is familiar enough with her ailing body to know it can endure one last run. Her breath catches. The almighty spirit of God rests upon the woman and she brings to light a daughter (not without complications). This is Rhea. A product of faith, destined to disseminate the same.

We are so enamored with beginnings and endings, are we not? In the turning of the earth the day does not end, nor does the night for each orbiting planet, and in the furthest reaches of a universe without age there is no beginning, and that is a thought I turn over and taste in my mouth from time to time. Because in a little hospital in rural Utah, in an oxygen tent feet away from a selfless mother, cries a baby whose life has just begun, at least by our standards. Yet in spheres beyond this stand scores of onlookers with eyes of finer material who see not a beginning but an ending. Now that is perspective!

Rhea lives and grows. She laughs and cries. She plays. She kisses, she falls, she learns, she thinks. She meets a prince and settles down, and in rural hospitals of her own she six times labors under travail of child and six times participates in the providential work of beginnings and endings.

I will not cheat the logs of heaven nor the jorunals of earth a descent life's rendering. But I merely offer, on a day fit for remembering, a small thought for a being whose familial sacrifices will impact generations of beleivers, scientists, athletes, musicians, prophets, politicians, linguists, and dancers in countries not her own and in homes that vicariously are, because isn't that where it begins and ends?

I submit that she will be comforted. I submit that she will inherit the earth. I submit that she will obtain mercy and kingdoms. I submit that she will see God with eyes open wide. For what does he see in her? He sees "what in God's eye (s)he is--Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men's faces."*

Happy Birthday Mom.

*Gerard Manley Hopkins