Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Fiction: Week One

This past week I read a lot, mostly owing to staying with friends who have the entire Penguin Mini Classics box set (luckily for them, my suitcase was already beyond capacity...) and as we'd discussed in our perimeters for the year's reading, "if it's got an ISBN, it counts". The biggest problem I have with reading really short books or novellas is that I have a hard time justifying quitting them. By the time I decide I don't care to continue I'm already half way in and really, I might as well finish -- explains why I ever finished Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (although, I maintain that I actually blacked out for large sections owing to boredom *ducks*).

13. Ransom by David Malouf -- David Malouf is so very good. Really. You should be reading one of his books right now. Seriously. Just do it. In Ransom he takes what is possibly the most underrated scene of all of Greek literature, when in the Iliad, Priam goes to Achilles and asks for the body of Hector. He turns it into yet another simple but vividly tender story about friendship and kinship that left my heart aching and a longing for my family. The story of Priam and Achilles is so strange in the context of the Iliad, of all mythology surrounding the Trojan war: Achilles kills Priam's son in retaliation for his bff/lover/soul-mate, then proceeds to drag his body by horses through the camp every day for eleven days just to add insult to injury because you know, it's not like they were fighting in a war or anything (gah, men, am I right?!). Then Priam, the king of the Trojans (who are pretty close to being annihilated if only the Greeks can figure out a way to breach those pesky walls) decides to go beg, without guards, Achilles for the body of his son. The whole poem is really just a really well written Tarantino wet-dream, so much bloodlust and gratuitus violence.

Characters introduced by their entire lineage just to get a fucking spear in the throat, so they can lie there sputtering while some other dude gets one in the eye. All it needs is Uma, people being buried alive and some shots of ladies' feet and Quentin would be all over that shit (sidenote, the Iliad is amazing and I highly recommend it. Tarantino, maybe not...).

So, this one scene between Achilles and Priam really sticks out from the whole 1000 pages as really unique. I'm really surprised the story is not addressed more either in Greek mythology or contemporary retellings, but if it's only reimagined by one author, I'm glad it was by Malouf. Anyway, Ransom = Yes.
14. Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie -- Is there anything, anything in the world that is better than reading a book that you can't put down? Like, stay up all night, read until your eyeballs dry out and it kinda hurts to blink kind of reading. No, there really isn't. Sex is ok, so is food and laughing at rednecks hurting themselves on YouTube but nothing compares to finding that kind of book that grabs you by the throat (that's the second time I've used the word throat in this post; great word, throat. Good to spell, great to say. Yep) and until you finish that book you can't do anything outside of biological demands. I used to encounter those books all the time as a kid. I'd read them at the lake, starting on the dock in the sunshine and wind up shivering at dusk, still in my bathing suit, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, hunger gnawing... Those were the days... But, once again, I digress...

I really, really dug Indian Killer, as you've probably, hopefully, been able to guess. It's just so rare to come across a 'page turner' and have it be a cutting social commentary, break your heart a little and make you laugh, a lot; really, the only thing it didn't do was make me breakfast. Alexie deftly creates characters who are unending warmth and humanity and others who in their ambivalence or prejudism are horrible people. The line between good and bad is drawn starkly and strongly, without falling into sanctimonious preaching, that prescribing to racist ideologies, to ignorant stereotypes and information is violence. It is a violence that infects the air around us and will poison everyone. This novel should be required reading for American and Canadian students. Mos def (I've been watching a lot of The Wire lately).

Mini Reviews for the Penguin Mini Modern Classics:

15. Bluebeard by Angela Carter -- I think I was expecting more?

16. Moon Lake by Eudora Welty -- Mmm-hmm, yeah.

17. Babette's Feast by Isak Dineson -- YES.

18. Through the Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya -- Ok, but I think maybe anti-choice?

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