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2006年03月27日

『Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories』Alice Munro(Alfred A, Knopf)

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This collection of nine stories is on the whole a lesson in eloquence, in carefully balanced story telling, and has striking moments, scattered like diamonds, of dazzling brilliance. Munro tells stories of ordinary lives, not those touched by extraordinary circumstances or catastrophic events, but lives simply being lived or tolerated, occasionally violated and celebrated. All of her protagonists are female, most come from small towns and provincial backgrounds, and all of them seem to be straining against the traditional female roles, the ideals of feminine mystique and coquetry that have been graciously and surreptitiously set before them. Munro’s voice is powerful and flush, even if her message is, at times, rather ambiguous. I prefer ambiguity in literature. Leaving the work up to interpretation and discussion increases its richness, and its potential to be ultimately satisfying to the reader.


Though upon reading the first two stories in this collection, the title tale and another called “Floating Bridge,” I was vaguely disappointed, stories like “Nettles” and “What is Remembered” completely won me over. Having read a few of the author’s short stories in The New Yorker, one in particular by the name of “Wenlock Edge” being among the best short stories I have ever read, I expected perhaps more diversity, less rigidity in the characters, and a wider scope of subtext that would go beyond unhappy marriages and repressed female sexuality, beyond turning away from one’s past.

Though thematically the stories are perhaps a bit too similar for my taste, there is no denying Munro’s vivid descriptions and richly textured language. She sets her reader up time and again; whether we expect a forbidden coupling in a rainstorm, or a suicide by hanging, we are never delivered quite what we thought we ordered. We are able to identify with the deeply intimate revelations of each of her characters. We feel ashamed with Lorna (“Post and Beam”) rather than on her behalf, and we wallow with the nameless little-girl-turned-mother (“Nettles”) in her self-pitying and often desperate malaise. There are moments when the thought or action of a character turns us against her due not to a strong moral objection, but because we ourselves have had that very thought, committed ourselves that same action, and these are things we do not wish to admit, even in the privacy of our minds.

This is the genius of Alice Munro. She taps into the hidden nuances of human nature; the beliefs and trials and tests that hinder us in our lives, and teach us to be stronger and wiser, if not better people. Munro’s stories are kaleidoscopes, telescopes, microscopes and x-ray glasses fitted to observe us at our most vulnerable and blemished moments, allowing us, in turn to see ourselves and each other in the most clear and colorful way, and from the most flawed angle. Having done that, we are left knowing perhaps a bit more of our true selves, and feeling freed.


-Jean Nastasi-



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2006年03月02日

『Summer Crossing』Truman Capote(Random House)

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I must preface this review by confessing that Truman Capote is one of my favorite writers of all time. Much more than a talented wordsmith with a fascinating life, he is a glaring idol woven into the fabric of New York cultural history. Whether we breakfast at Tiffany’s with Holly Golightly to combat the mean reds, or pay a visit to Master Misery to sell our dreams for a lousy dollar, we travel the bleak and often consuming New York City streets with Capote always at our backs.


Summer Crossing is no exception. It overflows with the curiously lonely nature of this overcrowded city, and brims with the possibility of losing one’s mind, oneself, to the hypnotic spasms of life and color that eek out from beneath every cracked section of sidewalk. Grady O’Neil is our on-again-off-again heroine, and we follow her moves and her mind as she discovers love and heartache and desire. O’Neil, like most of the author’s young female protagonists, embodies the qualities Capote attributes to New York City itself: desolation, coldness, vacuity, and conversely, tenderness and a longing to be loved that draws the reader to her, naive brat though she may be.

Though in many ways a rather conventional story of adolescent dissatisfaction and puppy love, and one that, incidentally, Capote himself threw in the garbage unedited, Summer Crossing flows evenly with the lovely prose that only Capote can bring us. “From the balcony she could see steeples and pennants far over the city quivering in a solution of solid afternoon: though even now the sky was fragile and soon would crumble into twilight.”

The maudlin mood never seems to take over completely, which spares the story that certain loss of character that seems to infect the contemporary New York novel. Though the characters are vaguely painted, as if outlines themselves lying flat and unfinished in Capote’s wastebasket, the novel can be appreciated for its skillful prose and sentimental value, if not by a wide audience, then at least by Capote devotees such as myself. A girl’s journey into womanhood can be a lonely one—the phrase may overused and hard to swallow, but it’s true none the less. Capote possessed an understanding of this truth that is profoundly moving and perfectly set against that background of buildings tall enough to drown the girl out, and faces strange enough to make her introspective.

I take issue here only with the question of whether Capote would consider this posthumous publication a triumph or a travesty. The flaws here remain unmended, and yet in full view of any reader who chooses to turn the pages. I suppose a partial resolution can be found in a forgiving reading of this novel, tempered always with the recognition of greatness when it is set before us. I recommend this novel, and all Capote has written, for those who seek an artful voice, mindful of grief and depth, and devoted to showing the other side of every ordinary life.


(Jean Nastasi)



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