Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Musings and Questions

I read on the Yahoo homepage today that Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro will be taking the lead roles in a film version of Ann Leary's The Good House, a wonderful book that I wrote about here just a few months ago. The screenplay will be written by none other than Michael Cunningham. Good film alert! Wonder how many years it will take to come to fruition?

What do you do when you have a book so literary, so beautifully written, yet so chock full of thoroughly incomprehensible characters, that you feel disdain for each of them? That was my dilemma with Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs. Could I walk away? No, I was way beyond the rule of fifty. Like a person driving by an accident and unable to look away, I continued to read to the very bitter end.

The narrator, thirty-something school teacher Nora Eldridge, is at once self-deprecating and self important, giving one the feeling that her humble tone is a pose. She is a woman who believes she deserves more from life than a career, friends, and a home. She needs more experiences, more passion, but rather than look for them herself, she seeks to suck it from the lives of others.

In this case, it's the family Shahid, Reza, the beautiful boy who's in her class at school, his exotic mother, the Italian artist Sirena, and her husband Skandar, a visiting professor at Harvard. Nora feels both envious and resentful of Sirena's good fortune, a home in Paris, this lovely child, a talent that far surpasses Nora's own minimalist attempts at "making art." So when what would appear on the surface to be a deep friendship develops between Nora and the Shahid family, the reader soon wonders, who's using whom? The result is a gorgeously articulated novel about a cadre of folks for whom I sadly, felt nothing. Anyone else have an emotional reaction to this book?

No? How about Susan Isaacs' disappointing Goldberg Variations then? What happened to the kind of literature where you fell half in love with the people in the book? The inside cover advertises this novel as "wickedly witty," but I only found it nasty and mean spirited. Stereotypes abound in this supposed reworking of the King Lear story. Except that in this case, the king is Gloria, a feisty female who actually believes she built a kingdom all by herself. You know, the kind who forgets whose shoulders she climbed on to get to the pinnacle of her fashion profession.

Now, suddenly, she's pushing eighty and, because of an unpleasant falling out with her designated heir, she's got to scramble to find someone who can take over her empire and do it well. There's no one to fall back on but the three grandchildren that she's eschewed for 'lo these many years. She invites Matthew, his sister Daisy and their cousin Raquel to her palatial home in New Mexico for a weekend of testing the waters, hoping that one of them will fill the bill. The kids, though, have other plans.

So, it's not like I haven't been reading as fast as I can, trying to catch up to Maryellen who I'm sure is way ahead in the race for 113 in 2013. But I'm looking for something special. Come on readers. Suggestions? What knocked you out lately? I'm all ears.


TooManyBooks said...

Sally, I loved the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. One of the best I've read lately. BTW, I'm at 66 books for the year. Moving has definitley cut into my reading time. 99 days until retirement!

Sallyb said...

Oh Maryellen, I'm only at 54! Who'd have thought retirement would cut into my reading!! 99 days? Who's counting? Can't wait for the party. Miss my buddy. No one to go out to din din with.

TooManyBooks said...

WE'll plan on a dinner as soon as you get back. Miss you bunches!