Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Harcourt Brace & World, 1st edition, 1968
Genre: Young adult, literature, Bildungsroman
Synopsis & Review: Shannon Lightley was in despair. Tired of being dragged about Europe from school to school in the wake of her divorced parents—her mother a famous English actress, her father a prominent television news commentator—she had taken her last year of high school in a small Oregon town, only to find that she didn’t “belong” in her native America either.
Reached by an old friend of her father’s—a lawyer in Portland—just as she was on the verge of leaving for Europe again, Shannon undertook the assignment he offered her, to track down some odd strangers, living near the local university, who were involved in an unusual will that was being contested. Using an assumed name and working as a waitress in a campus diner, Shannon was entirely on her own for the first time in her life, and as the summer went by, she tried t sort out who she really was and where her future lay. (jacket copy)
At Jenny’s behest (and because I do love Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Moccasin Trail), I checked Greensleeves out from the MCL, and OH MY GOD, I LOVED IT. Greensleeves has a lot to offer: alienation, a world-weary girl expat on the verge of womanhood, investigating a mystery while disguised as her polar opposite, two men who both see through her disguise to the worth beneath, someone finding themselves after high school, and blue eyeshadow. (I love blue eyeshadow. I have LOTS of it) Read the rest of this entry »
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
originally published 1961
Vintage Books, 23rd printing, 2008
Synopsis & Review: Frank and April Wheeler are young, bright, and beautiful. They’ve lived as though “greatness is just around the corner,” and in the meantime, they’ll make small compromises. But those small compromises become major ones as Frank takes a job he cannot stand, and they have two children, and then move out of the city. Neither one of them is happy with the concessions they’ve made, so they make do by feeling superior to the young suburbanites who surround them. Beneath their charming, joie de vivre-filled facades, Frank and April are discontented and miserable, drowning in the “hopeless emptiness” of suburbia.
While Frank slowly begins making peace with his lot, April throws herself into projects to improve her quality of life: first community theatre, then a plan to move the family to France where they can both “find themselves.” But an unplanned pregnancy jeopardizes everything.
So, like the SUPERsmart person that I am, I thought it would be a great idea to read Revolutionary Road, Little Children, and The Group right before getting married. (Cuz like, I’m not smart—get it?) After I told them I’d read Revolutionary Road, and then began wondering aloud whether I was dooming myself to a lifetime of being unfulfilled and miserable, my sisters put the kibosh on my little reading list so that I wouldn’t psych myself out of getting married. (I am too suggestible sometimes.) Wise women.
Don’t think that Revolutionary Road isn’t good, however, because it is very, very good. “Bleak” is so often applied to Yates’ work, and it is apt, but there’s a beauty to the bleakness, a stark clarity that illuminates his writing with a chiaroscuro of emotions and impressions. It is unsentimental and capable of wrenching emotion from its readers. And most curiously, despite the fifty years that have passed since it was written, it could be a novel of the twenty-first century. Read the rest of this entry »
The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s [sic] A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits byLes Standiford
Crown Publishers, 1st edition, 2008
Genre: non-fiction, Christmas, biography
Synopsis & Review: In 1843, Charles Dickens’ popularity seemed to have plateaued and he was near bankruptcy. Rather than succumb to despair, he sat down and penned one of his most personal stories, and had it edited and published in six short weeks—just in time for the Christmas season. Though he first made little profit on A Christmas Carol, it went on to restore Dickens’ popularity, and became not only his most popular work, but one of the most widely read in the English language in the nineteenth century. Adapted myriad times for stage and screen (beginning nearly immediately; the first opened 5 February 1844), it remains one of the most enduring works of fiction, known in detail even to the many people who have not read it. Les Standiford argues that A Christmas Carol is not merely a holiday entertainment staple, but is also the “reason for the season,” and that Charles Dickens did not simply celebrate Christmas and the benevolence and goodwill it engenders, but resuscitated a dying holiday.
I’ve actually never read A Christmas Carol, and I’ve never managed Dickens. I’ve tried Great Expectations a few times, but then I wander off and read something worthwhile like a Christopher Pike book, or perhaps Gone with the Wind for the umpety billionth time. This makes me feel inadequate, as though I am lacking some fundamental Dickens appreciation spot in my brain. (I can usually assuage that feeling with the knowledge of my overlarge Zola appreciation spot, but it’s not always a comfort.) So I read this essentially on a whim, selecting it while looking for possible books for my two holiday reading challenges. I like Christmas after all, and I like books on cultural history. Unfortunately, this book didn’t really satisfy. Read the rest of this entry »
Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh
originally published 1945
Little Brown & Co, 3rd printing, 1973
Genre: English literature
Synopsis & Review: Capt Charles Ryder’s company is assigned to a new location; upon arriving at the new billet, he discovers that it is the estate of his old friend Sebastian Flyte’s family. Being at Brideshead again after so many years makes him reflect on his dealings with the Flytes: Sebastian, Julia, Lady Marchmain, Bridey, Cordelia, and Lord Marchmain.
Twenty years before, Charles had met Sebastian by chance at Oxford, and though their first meeting was a bit unpleasant, they soon became fast friends. The two spend their time in drinking and idleness, slowly growing closer. Enchanted by the glamour and beauty of Sebastian and his lifestyle, Charles becomes deeply involved with him and eventually his family. Theirs is a highly dysfunctional family, divided by their parents’ division and their own struggles with their Catholicism. In the aftermath of the Great War–which was supposed to end all wars, but instead ushered in an era of constant warfare–Charles and the Flytes also wrestle with social changes, a Götterdämmerung of the aristocracy.
While Sebastian slowly sinks into to alcoholism (dipsomania!), Charles leaves Oxford to study art. His closeness to Sebastian’s family eventually drives a wedge between them, as Sebastian’s mother Lady Marchmain seeks Charles’ help in treating Sebastian, causing Sebastian to feel betrayed, and the two part company.
Later, after his own marriage to a society girl, Charles encounters Julia, and the love he had for Sebastian re-establishes itself upon her. The two conduct and affair, even seeking divorces from their respective spouses, but when Julia’s father Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead from his long, self-imposed exile on the Continent only to die, Julia is stricken with guilt and renounces her affair with Charles for the sake of her own soul.
During World War II, when he arrives at Brideshead once more, Charles is “homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless,” but after a lifetime of agnosticism, there he finally discovers his own faith in both humanity and the divine.
It took me ages to read Brideshead Revisited. I don’t mean that it was a long read, but rather, I picked it up back in August (August!), read the first page or two of the prologue, and put it down. I just could not bring myself to read it for OVER TWO MONTHS. (Thank goodness the Multnomah County Library has a generous renewal policy.) When Dewey’s Read-a-Thon came up, and Brideshead was still languishing on my side table, I decided it ought to go in my stack. After all, if I couldn’t forced myself into it far enough to really tell how good a book it was during a Read-a-Thon, I probably never would. And you know what I discovered? Two things: The prologue is actually very, very short, and Brideshead Revisited is fantastic. Read the rest of this entry »
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
originally published 1898
Buccaneer Books, 1993
Genre: Horror, Gothic novella
Synopsis & Review: Over the Christmas holidays, a man tells a ghost story he’s kept to himself since it was told to him years ago. A young governess, swayed by a handsome employer, goes to a remote country house to take charge of a young orphaned girl. The house and child are beautiful and pleasant, and the housekeeper who is her closest co-worker is a nice, comfortable woman. But when the young boy is expelled from his school without a word about why, the governess must also care for him, and the atmosphere becomes ominous.
The governess soon discovers that both the children’s previous caretakers are dead, and that they were involved in an unsavory way. She also begins to see strange people where they shouldn’t be. And worst of all, the children seem aware of the unwholesome presences–and even to welcome them. Beneath the peaceful facade of the house and the innocent faces of the children lies an immense, unspeakable evil.
The second book I picked up for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon would also have suited RIP IV–but reading it at work was a dreadful mistake. Though many nights at work are very quiet and I can read undisturbed for hours, last Saturday was a nightmare. I don’t think I managed to go even five minutes without a disturbance of some kind. And reading Henry James under such circumstances was maddening. At least it was only eighty-seven pages. Read the rest of this entry »
White Fang by Jack London
Originally published 1906
Airmont, 1st printing, 1964
Genre: adventure, literature
Synopsis & Review: Two men travel through the frozen Northland, intent on delivering their cargo-a fallen compatriot—to Fort McHenry. Death stalks them through the Wild in the form of a wolfpack, starving and implacable. One particularly cunning member is a she-wolf, who lures the pair’s sled dogs away from the safety of the fire into the pack’s ravening maw. One by one the dogs disappear, and one of the men succumbs. At the last moment, as the pack closes in on the last man, rescue comes.
From there the novel follows the she-wolf, running with the pack’s leader, One-Eye. When she whelps, he hunts for their family, until he is caught and killed by a lynx. After that, the she-wolf raises the puppies alone, through a famine that takes all but one of her cubs. The two are caught one day by the brother of the she-wolf’s former owner, Grey Beaver, and so the she-wolf—Kiche—and her cub leave the Wild to live with Man. In the Indian camp, the cub—named White Fang by Grey Beaver—learns the rules of Man, but is shunned by the other dogs, who view him as a wolf. White Fang learns to defend himself, becoming more savage and implacable than the other dogs who band against him. White Fang grows into a ferocious creature and makes a name for himself as a killer of other dogs when Grey Beaver takes him on trading journeys along the Mackenzie River. When Grey Beaver heads to Fort Yukon for trade, White Fang accompanies him, becoming famous among the white men of the Gold Rush, too. It is here that White Fang catches the eye of Beauty Smith, a man ugly in both body and spirit. Coveting White Fang, Beauty offers Grey Beaver a trade, but is summarily refused. Cunningly, Beauty offers Grey Beaver alcohol, and when the Indian has exhausted all his resources buying and drinking more, Beauty returns; in his desperation, Grey Beaver trades White Fang for a bottle of liquor. Thriving on pain, Beauty torments White Fang, whipping him into an ever-greater frenzy of hatred, pain, and savagery. Fighting for Beauty, White Fang is reduced to his most primal state before the intervention of one Weedon Scott, who sets out to salvage him. click here to continue reading