Monday, March 15, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: them

Hey all. I decided to try something new for the next few posts, instead of blogging my usual stream of conscious or posting a picture or something, I'm going to devout this blog post, and the next two, to...drumroll...my own personal Entertainment Ranting – imagine that being said in the booming wizard voice from the Wizard of Oz, because that's what I was going for.

Yes, so one post for books, one for music, and one for television, what the heck, lets make it four with another for film (though I make no promises they'll come consecutively).


First up: books, wahoo.


So, in literary news, I have sort of a book review for you I guess. I've recently finished reading them, an early novel from the crazily prolific oeuvre of Joyce Carol Oates (the woman's published like 6,000 novels! okay, that's an exaggeration, but A LOT). You hear her name thrown around occasionally by that one uppity, erudite friend everyone has, who's like 23 but subscribes to the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal and won't drink drip coffee only some weird Brazilian beverage, please tell me you know the type. Anyway, I figured I'd give her a try – not to become an uppity, erudite myself, more just to see what all the fuss is about. Bottom-line: just take a look at her, her writing will now come as no surprise.



SPOILER ALERT, don't continue if you would like to be completely surprised while reading this book.

The book was written in the sixties, set in impoverished,socially divided Detroit, and spanning 30 tumultuous years from the thirties to the sixties – so yeah, it deals with social division/poverty/working class tragedy, racism, war, corruption and politics, the human condition, etc. etc. but most memorably and simply, people; three protagonists, one family, a microcosm for an entire society. And let me say, the picture is not pretty. Things start out pretty depressing for the three characters, mother and children, but they are so incredibly human you can't help but relate and feel for them (this is definitely to the credit of Oates, she is a great author). Throughout the whole affair, there is sooo much potential given to each character, you end up investing so much in them, willing them to defy the odds, defeat their destiny, make something from nothing, all that Disney hope we're indoctrinated with from childhood, and for awhile it looks like they might. But it turns out Ms. Oates must be more of an existential realist than fairy-tale optimist, and the book is unrelentingly bleak.

I have a few thoughts on what she is saying about society and her characters and even the title itself– I mean them, its wrought with disdain and notably separation from us, but not to belabor or overdo for a non-literature focused blog, I'll leave them out (though email if you want to discus the book!).  Anyway, as it turns out when the book is finished, and you can't figure out if the characters you have been rooting for even deserved it...whether they were mensch or menace or merely human, and you're hesitantly leaning toward the latter – though the latter is incredibly depressing, you realize the return to your investment: feeling a bit empty; seriously it's a pretty gloomy painting of people. The thing is I didn't dislike the book, there's a reason it won the National Book Award, and it definitely left me thinking, but in the same way those “classic” depressing foreign movies leave you thinking, thinking but devoid of any sort of reassuring feeling. I'm tempted to pick Les Mis back up to teach me how to hope again. Years ago, Gore Vidal was famously quoted as saying the three saddest words in the English language are Joyce. Carol. Oates.  I can definitely laugh along with that now.

So will I read another of the 100 some writings from JCO? Haven't decided yet, but for sure not too soon, I'm going to need a good buffer period between novels or I might be in danger of becoming a nihilist.


Over and out.

3 comments:

Sophie and Morgan said...

I learned 2 new words from this post. Oeuvre and mensch. The only book of hers I read was a short story in high school title Where are you going, where have you been. That was enough for me. I probably won't read the book but I've still learned.

Kimberly Paul said...

haha, don't blame you for not reading the book Sophie, one short story's definitely enough. Anyway, yeah, I like that word mensch, it sounds mischievous but actually is almost the opposite.

Jeff said...

hmmm... I think you need a TV. That'll get you back to those fairy tale endings where the good guys always win, and they do it in 22 minutes!