The Perfect Short: Carried Away

Short stories are not my forte. I typically avoid writing them as much as I do reading them. To be fair though, writing a short is a difficult endeavor, arguably more so than composing a novel due to tighter constraints. There is no room for flaws. A novel may forgive, a short story does not and often times they land on the reader’s figurative ear as dry or obnoxiously abstract. To write a ‘good’ short story, one that has momentum as well as emotional vulnerability, complex intellect, and a keen awareness and fluidity, is a feat. Alice Munro surpasses in this task.

One of the greatest short story writers of the last century, Munro executes with a tact and precision that are not only admirable, but also not lacking in artistic juices. She is a master of revelation, resolution, and crafts characters of limitless expansion. They deliver shock and draw endearment. Munro’s innate understanding and ability to construct a time and people with painful clarity, is a skill shared with authors such as E.M. Forster and Anton Chekhov.

“Carried Away” is an example of perfection. It is a highlight in Munro’s cannon as well as twentieth century fiction. It is within memory that the tiniest moments in life are blown out to be given intent of unpardonable significance and we become carried away on the sweeping influences of perception and the proclamations of foreign bodies. Munro begins with Louisa reading letters from a soldier in the small Canadian town of Carstairs during World War I. A librarian and an outsider, living in the Commercial Hotel after running from a tragic love affair, Louisa finds herself to have an admirer in the letters of a young soldier who has kept himself a secret from her before going overseas. She is swept away by Jack Agnew’s affection, only to discover that he is engaged and married after his return. He never approaches her and she finds herself haunted by the featureless face of a lover that she has never seen. We follow her life as she is carried away on the tidal wave of ebbing emotion, moving from man to man as life continues.

Louisa is a stunning portrayal of a woman’s bereaved psyche, encapsulating patterns of standard experience and recovery, while co-existing in her individual oddity. Munro manages to develop a woman who is at once a type and a person, mirroring reality with sensational elasticity. The men whom she encounters romantically are merely stories within her journey, moments and chapters that serve as transitional encounters, reversing the gender roles of the mythical hero’s quest. Munro leaves Louisa’s final encounter with Jack Agnew open to speculation. The message of the piece becomes concrete is his questionable appearance, just as the haunting of the subconscious is self-affirmed. Ending at the beginning, the reader is left with a sense of unhinged mystery and the unsettling prospects of the past. The ambiguity is just as thought provoking as the specificity.

Young Love and the Columbian Cartel: Love in the Time of Cocaine

I’m writing this review for Harper Duz Press, LLC, a new publishing company out of New Jersey that publishes fiction and nonfiction material in the United States and Europe. It will be released in November, 2014.

When the Columbian cartel infiltrates the ivy walls of Cornell University, young love is torn apart and the truth of our ingénue’s family is revealed, only to continue haunting her throughout her life. As stated on the back cover of the book, Alvaro Alban’s story is based on true events and does nothing to soften the horror that was Pablo Escobar’s reign in Colombia, both as a politician and drug lord. Through the eyes of a young girl, the reader is witness to the reality that the children of this drug world endured and still battle to survive within all over the globe.

Love in the Time of Cocaine is an interesting experiment in dissection. Beginning with a fanciful description of the university, it then turns towards the relationship between our two young lovers, the moments after Pamela’s supposed death, then her young life in the form of a memoir, and last Luis’ life in the years before seeing her again. The structuring of the piece is provocative. Well thought out and planned down to the letter, Alban seems well aware of the information he wants to communicate and delivers it in increments that keep the reader’s attention. Without a doubt, we understand the terror that Pamela lives with and are challenged to imagine what it would be like to walk a day in her shoes.

If this book was written chronologically, I am not sure that it would have gone very far in the office. Although our author has obviously devoted a great deal of time to this project, the writing itself leaves much to be desired. Alban’s first novel, it reads like an exercise in a creative writing seminar. The characters and graphic situations are dramatized for effect. However, it reads like poorly received comedy. Harvey and Luis’ friends are comically portrayed as stereotypes, while Luis and Pamela are generic figments of a fairytale. Alban has beautiful moments where within the language he captures a sense of poetry, hope, and despair. Unfortunately, the reader spends most of the time wondering whether or not this is a teenager writing in a fiction class or a horrendous translation.

Your classic crime story of love and drugs, Love in the Time of Cocaine is an entertaining read for the commute to work or a weeknight in bed. As I was reading, I frequently had the thought that it would make a successful piece of cinema. The book’s best attributes would transfer perfectly into a screenplay and work to the stories advantage. Although the dialogue would have to be further explored, it may be an option worth pursuing in terms of further development.

The Bostonians and an Apology to the Reader

Dear Reader,

I would like to apologize for my absence. The past two months did not progress quite as I had planned, or how either one of us expected. I was cruelly thrust into the mad and often fatal game that is the Brooklyn apartment hunt and you were ruthlessly cast aside. However, with three jobs, no home, slumlords, and one past roommate whose profound yet basic ignorance mars her capacity as a human being, it was inevitable.

Do not fear – we shall be reunited once more in the buxom bosom of a review. I promised to review Henry James’s The Bostonians. My copy disappeared in all the chaos of moving, packing, and transferring from friends’ homes in Harlem, Greenpoint, and Park Slope. (If anyone cares, the new apartment is beautiful.) In conclusion, it was read sporadically and I had decided to read it a second time. I was almost successful in this venture, but fifty pages from the finishing line it once more vanished.

As I expressed in a previous review on Colm Tóibín’s The Master, Henry James is a riveting character in literary history. Not only was he exceptionally complicated as an individual, his natural disposition bearing the sole adjective of secretive, his works were interlaced with the subtle and monotonous overcast of day-to-day life and accompanying events. As I have decided to continue into the upcoming autumn with the summer’s itinerary, we may be reviewing James again in the future.

The Bostonians begins with the arrival of a cousin from the south in Boston after the horrors of the Civil War. Basil Ransom, a veteran and Mississippi lawyer, re-locates to New York to begin his career once more with the hopes of being able to support the family he has left behind. He is invited to Boston by his northern relation Olive Chancellor, a feminist and active member of the women’s movement. It is through her that he encounters Verena Tarrant and it is over her that the cousins battle for the entirety of the novel.

While being poorly received when it was first published in serial in 1885 and then as a novel in 1886, The Bostonians thrives today as a fascinating study of a period that continues to define our country today. The torrid relationship between the north and the south is blatantly, if not simply, evident in Basil, Olive and their fight over the young Verena is nothing short of symbolic. The struggle is for the intellectual health of the future. In the end, Verena elopes with Basil, allowing the romantic and crippling chivalry of the depleted south to seduce her away from the bright light of equality and progress.

James seems to be on edge with himself throughout the novel. His feelings towards the characters are never clear and his political agenda tends to confound itself. The ridicule towards Olive and her comrades at the beginning of the novel is undebatable. He interprets an audacity in their dispositions and snorts at their strategical methodology. While the passionate are painted as ridiculous, the passive are seen as lame. Basil is the only member who is given rationality in terms of behavior. However, at the end of the novel James leans towards Olive. The sympathy he displays towards her and his assurance that Verena will regret her final decision, dramatically contrasts with introductory meeting. At times Basil prowls predatory, while Olive bounces about like a squawking hen. It is safe to say that James has a strong level of a detest for both of them, loving each only when they are presented with failure. Verena is the easily influenced youth, allured by empty beauty and submitting to fleeting affection.

Whether James portrays his characters fairly is a different question. The context of the period is given in great detail. The visual texture is thorough and the thoughts of the day are presented without missing a single beat. There is no doubt of the world in which they exist and the intricate weaving of internal monologue with descriptive physicality within the writing is nothing short of brilliant. At once, the reader is conscious of both the inner and outer clockwork and how the two function as a single unit. Unfortunately, the flaw of the novel is the achievement of the novel. The Bostonians is almost too detailed, as it is almost too simple, and this creates a slow read, not a savoring read. The material is captivating, but the characters and their world are at once both overwhelming and underwhelming. The excellence of James’s prose is undeniable, but in The Bostonians the reader is captured only to be released a page later. Although precise, the voice is blended down to a lulling ramble that inspires the reader to rip through the pages gasping for breath.

It is important that The Bostonians is still read. Although James is not the radical that Thomas Hardy would prove to be with each publication, the message that leaks out at the end continues to be powerful because it is still relevant. With Verena’s seemingly innocent collapse, James predicts that the Civil War was only the beginning of the war towards liberation. The Bostonians, the title, refers to how people such as Olive and Verena were viewed by others such as Basil. It is an identity, a force that carries and worships individual and female worth over a male hierarchy of dominance and indulgence.

Never stop thinking. Never stop fighting.

Page Terror

The Woman and Intellect: The Blazing World

Congratulations to Siri Hustvedt! The Blazing World has made it onto the 2014 Longlist for The Man Booker Prize! If you have not yet picked up a copy of The Blazing World, now would be the time.

Page Terror

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was an unrecognized giant of literary merit in her own time. The Blazing World, her utopian romance, is considered to be one of the earliest pieces of science fiction and addresses issues of gender, science, power, and how the three intertwine. She was known for being impertinent, having addressed and criticized the Royal Society of London and noted philosophers of the seventeenth century, such as Boyle, Hobbes, and Descartes. She published under her own name when most women writers were being circulated as anonymous and defied social regulation without shame.

It is important for me to tell you this because women are powerful, because we are still unfairly discriminated against, and because Margaret Cavendish and The Blazing World serve as the inspirational foundation for Siri Hustvedt’s recently published novel, The Blazing World.

Harriet Burden wakes towards the end of her life to re-seek…

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Gatsby? What Gatsby?

I have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby on the fourth of July every year since I was twelve years old. I am very much aware that I have promised the reader a review on Henry James’s The Bostonians. However, I feel that tradition in this instance takes precedence and that James can always wait another week.

Gatsby holds not only a unique place in the black pit that is my heart, but also in the world of the twentieth century novel. A social history of America during the 1920’s, Fitzgerald critically assesses the growing developments and the coinciding flux of values that percolated throughout the age, exploding with the inevitable defeat of man’s spiritual being by the impounding dominance of materialism. The narrative is a beautiful balance of simplicity and bounding poetics, wrapped up in the dark mysticism of possibility and the timeless allure of slow and unavoidable ruin.

The characters are products of their context. It is through his portrayal of types and the boundaries that they may cross that Fitzgerald is able to bring to life the reality of his period. His elegant and yet brutally honest fixtures are not at the mercy of a universe that he has plucked out of the ether. Instead, they are the world and what we see exudes from their speech, actions, and the nature of their internal dichotomies. Each possesses an inner battle that reflects the age that they were created to mirror. Even Nick, who as the narrator only exists in relation to the people and story he is depicting, fights for understanding, causing him to hover in a multi-dimensional construction.

There is the misconception that Gatsby is about the Roaring Twenties, the decade of sin and continuous partying that people partook in to overcome the catastrophic effects of the First World War. The glittery and undeniably sad actuality of this piece and time cannot be denied. However, what The Great Gatsby is truly about, where the irrevocable magic of the story extends from, is not the party scenes. It is not the mob allusions, the mansions, or the fancy cars. At its core, The Great Gatsby is about the transcendence of the human spirit, the innate connection of the individual with the universe, and its promised destruction. We witness this in Jay the moment before he kisses Daisy and then we watch as it is resigned and burned and Jay becomes in essence mortal, a demi-god who has relinquished his immortality for the physical.

I will end this little ditty by informing my reader that Daisy is my favorite character and that she always has been. The reader can easily write her off as irritating and weak and she can be both of those things. However, that is not all of Daisy and to do so does not only comment on your own lack of empathy, but it is also an insult to Fitzgerald. Daisy is the great tragedy of the novel. To characterize her with her worst attributes is to reduce her to the mere shadow of a person, not acknowledging her as a full-bodied individual with potential. We as the reader have the privilege to see that potential rise once more from the ashes before collapsing in final defeat, submitting to the destiny that was created for her at birth by those who sought to dim the light that would continue to flicker, green across the bay, before disappearing forever into the fog.

Colm Tóibín’s The Master, or The Inward James

Dear Reader,
It is summer. This means that although I am no longer freezing in my unheated apartment, I am once more living in the New York heat without an air conditioner. However, what is most important at the moment is that the coming of beach weather also means that Page Terror’s summer of paperback classics may officially commence and we will be beginning the twelve week revelry with the great monster: Henry James.

During that cusp week where spring showers merge with the sweltering heat, I happened upon a copy of Colm Tóibín’s The Master. I must confess that I had not previously heard of the novel. I knew of Colm Tóibín though and, being ashamed that I had yet to read any of his work, thought I would give it a whirl.

I am elated that I did.

If you know nothing about Henry James, do not fear. A prominent figure in the progression of narrative realism and trans-Atlantic literature, James published over twenty novels and contributed greatly to literary criticism. He also wrote and published biographies, travel literature, and was a prolific pen pal. In life, his relationships with men and women alike were beyond complicated; his relationship with America perhaps even more so.

The Master captures James in the last years of the nineteenth century as he embarks on new stories, contemplates the haunting loves of his past, and confronts his fears for the future. An introvert who was practiced in extrovertsim, James introduces us to some of the most extraordinary minds, figures, and artists of his time. Not only do we encounter on a personal note the intellectual family to which he belonged, but others who were close to him, such as Hendrick Andersen, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Edmund Gosse. Tóibín begins with the failure of James’ play Guy Domville on the London stage and ends with the departure of Henry’s elder brother William and his family after their extended visit in 1899 at James’ home in Rye. In between the years of 1895 and 1900, Tóibín elegantly transitions the reader through James’ present and his past, addressing the Wilde Trials in 1895, the tragic nature of the Civil War, and the deaths that sprinkled throughout James’ life like an unrelenting rain storm. From the people in his life and his experience within theirs, we see the consummation of the characters that would emerge in his intricate weavings of point of view, interior monologue, and the heightened realism of his dialogue.

This is a novel worthy of its subject. The manner of Tóibín’s narration is a compliment to James and perfectly assesses the psychology of a man who believed that a novel must show life in action. In a matter of chapters, the reader learns to think as James. The prose slowly unravels the clockwork of his mind, steadily building in an emotional intensity that invites the reader to conceive of his work from the interior and, as a result, to understand an individual who sought unconditional love, while at once showing unmitigated trepidation at the possibility of commitment and inevitable promise of isolation.

I believe we will be reviewing The Bostonians next.

-Page Terror

2014’s 10 Best Works of Fiction So Far

Flavorwire’s 10 Best Works of Fiction So Far in 2014.
Helen Oyeyemi is at the top of the list!

Flavorwire

The first half of the year has been filled with great books, largely by young or debut authors (as well as familiar names like Lydia Davis). From Helen Oyeyemi to Kyle Minor, these authors’ 2014 offerings come with the promise of decades-long careers to come, and bode well for the future of fiction.

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