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2005年11月21日

『Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker 』David Remnick (Editor)(Random House Publishing Group)

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「Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker」

The exquisite prose in this short story collection is no surprise considering the magazine that brings it to us. The New Yorker has been a staple of New York life since 1925, its fiction section characterized by stories possessing an urbane charm and sprawling poetic language. Wonderful Town is a collection of some of the best of these stories, leaving an indelible mark on the reader, and boasting contributors such as Updike, Kincaid, and Nabokov, as well as several other talented 20th century voices. Each piece winds its way through the cramped streets and dripping alleys of New York City, bringing the reader into this unique and treasured world by way of the greatest literary minds of our time.

Some of the more notable pieces include Cheever’s The Five-Forty-Eight (1954), a tale of immorality and fragility laid starkly before us against the backdrop of the rainy streets of New York and a crowded commuter train, Eisenberg’s What It Was Like, Seeing Chris (1985), in which a fourteen year old girl fears going blind, quite literally, in the face of a curious and puzzling first love, and Conroy’s Midair (1984), selections from the novel by the same title, which defines for us what it is to be a son to a father and then a father to sons, and what happens when a fear of falling grows older.

The forty-four stories vary greatly in genre and subject matter from the postmodern (The Balloon) to the realist (Apartment Hotel) and from love lost (Distant Music) to satire (The Whore of Mensa). Its versatility and range not only make this collection a necessity for lovers of short fiction, but the pieces themselves demonstrate the care and precision with which the New Yorker has always chosen its representative writing. The movement and very humanity of these pieces is quite hard to shake, and the tales themselves both challenge and confirm our conceptions of The Big Apple and its inhabitants.
(Jean Nastasi)

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2005年11月04日

『The Hours』Michael Cunningham(Picador USA)

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「The Hours by Michael Cunningham」

A sheer delight for literati and artists alike, Cunningham’s third novel seems at first a precarious and ultimately hopeless enterprise. A contemporary author’s assertion that he can accurately assume the voice and mind of Virginia Woolf is an outrageous claim and perhaps one that would be better left alone. For Cunningham, thankfully, this is not the case. The result of his dicey foray into the minds of three troubled women is a haunting work of radiance and intensity, a breathtaking success. In the style of Woolf herself, Cunningham presents the deeply hidden inner workings of his characters in classic stream of consciousness style, and gives the reader a firsthand view of the fears and desires that plague and motivate them.

The novel fluctuates between three different eras, recounting instant by instant the burdensome grief of three women, and their collectively steadfast desire to keep up appearances. Virginia Woolf needs no introduction, but Cunningham creates Clarissa Vaughn and Laura Brown with ostensible ease, breathing into both a vulnerable spirit, while blessing us with an apt commentary on feminine society and its limitations. Cunningham’s gift for depiction and luminous imagery infuses the text with an overall feminine quality and voice as well, illustrating his sophistication and his talent for transformative language.

Cunningham begins without hesitation—at the end—plunging us headfirst into the moment of Woolf’s suicide by drowning, only to pull us out again to experience the world of this beloved writer and her torments, so that we may rise and descend with Woolf at intervals. All the beauty and sorrow is presented in spades, and for Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughn the sadness is no less palpable, the narrative no less replete with paltry attempts at sustainable joy. Party planning and cake baking do not bring the women closer to the gratification for which they are so desperate. In what is perhaps his most notable display of talent, Cunningham weaves in and out of the lives and minds of these women, simultaneously connecting all of them in series of profound and fascinating turns.

This is a novel of madness and its underpinnings, of love and its often contradictory measures, of connection and ambition and success beyond the measure of oneself. It is a novel of greatness that cannot see itself, and what happens when that greatness is immeasurable, and not to be contained.
(Jean Nastasi)

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2005年11月01日

『Specimen Days』Michael Cunningham(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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「Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham」

As an avid Michael Cunningham devotee and a modest Walt Whitman scholar, I was more than a little curious about the latest literary endeavor of the widely acclaimed author of The Hours. Specimen Days, a novel in three parts, grandly presents to the reader, New York City. Through a series of dramatic flashes connected by a subtly prophetic thread, Cunningham boldly commandeers our fabled and factual voyage from the harrowing birth of the American Industrial Age to a time one-hundred and fifty years from the present, when the New York we know is only barely recognizable through the eyes of robots engaged in the act of make believe, pantomiming the familiarities of a city that once was king.

In the first tale, “In the Machine,” we are entranced and fascinated by the eidolic imagery used to paint a picture of Lucas, a deformed boy of thirteen who spews passages from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass intermittently with his own words. We enter his life just after his family has been rocked by the death of his brother Simon. Killed by a machine in the Ironworks, Simon has left behind his lovely intended, Catherine, who is to Lucas, an angel on earth. As we are plunged more deeply into the horror that is life below the poverty line of 19th century New York, we come to see beyond the harshness of child labor, crippling illness and lunacy. We are instead urged to contemplate a peripheral threat, one hovering like a grim lullaby, easing into our collective unconscious, and striking us with its sharp edged reality.

The second section, “The Children’s Crusade,” is not as skillfully rendered. In its weakest moments, it struck me as an easily fleshed out crime novel, the dialogue of which one could indubitably find between the creased covers of a Dean Koontz thriller. Set in present day New York, the portrait of police life in a terrorist laden city seems to be slightly unfamiliar terrain for Cunningham. He struggles to accurately depict his main character, Cat; the brash, commitment phobic and almost offensively stereotypical female African American cop. The saving grace of “The Children’s Crusade” is the ending, which manages to transcend the banal plot and hollow characterization with a welcome evocation of Cunningham’s innate and pure talent.

“Like Beauty,” Cunningham’s alien fraught futuristic finale is, ironically, devoid of any semblance of imaginative writing. Though the subject matter, the future of New York City, is completely unknown and therefore ideal for fresh and innovative philosophies, Cunningham’s vision is burdened with disappointing predictability in the form of green aliens and ridiculous electronic technology. Brave New World this is not.

Perhaps most disappointing is that the connections between the sections, such as name repetition, the reappearance of a mysterious object, and most obviously, Walt Whitman himself, turn out to be fruitless. In the 19th century Whitman published a book of his observations, Specimen Days, and perhaps because of this, the reader of Cunningham’s novel seeks some greater point to harness: brilliant commentary, poetic passion, or even a plausible set of predictions. Despite all of my negative thoughts on this novel, the first section is quite moving and lovely. I’d still recommend it to any fan of Cunningham, or, failing that, Dean Koontz.
(Jean Nastasi)

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