It moves at such a happy pace, Don Quixote, that I wonder why it has taken me 15 years to get back to it. There is much one forgets–conversations between Don Quixote and Sancho, and, stranger, how the Don and Sancho behave when they are separated from each other.
And there are the women. Don Quixote has many interesting and charming women, all wrapped up in high drama; Marcela wants to be left alone and tend her sheep, Lucinda gets tied up in a romantic potboiler, and Dorotea puts her harsh woe aside to help our Don with his adventures.
I’ve stopped now at the “Man Who Was Recklessly Curious” chapter, a 40 page novel within the novel. It’s a good place to stop. I’ll probably reread all of part 1 and wait on part 2 for a while. Cervantes waited 10 years for part 2, I can wait a couple months.
In the mid-1990s I bought a beat-up hardback of E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime at Green Apple for a few bucks, took it home, and thought about the movie version of the novel, and how it featured perhaps the first naked woman I’d ever seen, Elizabeth McGovern in the role of Evelyn Nesbit. The movie of Ragtime came out in the early 1980s and back then PG-rated movies featured nudity. It was a good time to be a kid and a moviegoer. McGovern more than Doctorow made me buy the book.
I read Ragtime in one long sitting. It’s a baffling novel, jokey with historical figures like Houdini and Theodore Dreiser, and kind and affectionate to its principals like Mother, Mother’s Younger Brother, Coalhouse Walker Jr, and Tateh. It’s a book about race and class and desire, it’s damn sexy and at times damn frightening, and there are interspersed scenes of Doctorow the narrator talking about shifts in mood and temperament of America–some of these are hokey but they serve the same purpose as the macro-USA chapters in The Grapes of Wrath. The prose is assured and at times seems to resemble newspaper reporting–that is meant as a compliment.
I enjoyed other Doctorow novels, especially The Book of Daniel, which might be his best novel, but there are a half-dozen sharp scenes in Ragtime I will never forget, no matter how much the rest of it fades from memory.
Took a break from reading old big summer novels to read a somewhat new novel, Michael Punke’s The Revenant, a novel first released in 2002 and recently released again in conjunction with its forthcoming film adaptation. Based on its preview, the film looks vastly better than the novel.
The Revenant isn’t well-written, and it is difficult to see what inspired the filmmakers to make a movie of it. The novel has many gaps and holes in its tale–one wishes to know more of minor characters and less of major, and only one is a cinematic well-rounded type, our hero Hugh Glass–and perhaps that is what drew-in the adapters; they read and saw what might have been, instead of what is.
For every good description of injury in The Revenant–and there are many injuries to Glass and to select minor characters–there is a tired cliche nearby; war cries are “piercing,” a nose is “ruddy,” silence becomes “uncomfortable.” The story of The Revenant is interesting, yet the writing betrays it.
Having recently completed The Charterhouse of Parma, a book filled with ecstatic life and wild adventure that puts a noodle like The Revenant to shame, I was grateful for the two evenings spent with this book, for appreciating greatness becomes easier the more one encounters simple pleasures such as this.
At the halfway point of An American Tragedy (Book 2, Chapter XXXVII) and bleakness sets in firmly; Clyde is moving fast onto Sondra while leaving Roberta in the dust. But Roberta’s pregnant, so Clyde travels to out-of-town pharmacies looking for medicine that might end it. The meds fail, so Clyde shops for an abortion doctor and finds one. Off the happy couple goes to meet him.
This is all very bleak, very repetitive, as the base childlike thoughts of Clyde and Roberta, who are both poor and unsophisticated and far removed from leisure, have abandoned whatever fairy tale qualities they had of romantic love–dread and horror have replaced love.
And Dreiser’s language is the hardest thing to pin down in all of this, as he is writing the thoughts and voices of common unworldly people. Clyde has the upper hand as he’s been in and out of trouble before, escaping his scrape in Kansas City and landing on his feet in Chicago. But he’s a schemer and dreamer and wise as a fire hydrant. Roberta is sinking, and there’s nobody to help her. The setting is claustrophobic and dark; Lycurgus isn’t a metropolis, it’s a small town blown big by the hot air of capitalism. There is nowhere to go for either of them.
When Clyde gets a job supervising a couple-dozen women, it serves two purposes; one, it gives Clyde’s wealthy Lycurgus relatives a chance to lord over their poor cousin, and secondly, it lets Clyde’s basic revelations about people come to the fore. Here’s Clyde on the women he oversees:
Up to this time, apart from the girls to whom he was so definitely drawn, Clyde was not so very favorably impressed with the type of girl who was working here. For the most part, as he saw them, they were of a heavy and rather unintelligent company, and he had been thinking that smarter-looking girls might possibly be secured. Why not? Were there none in Lycurgus in the factory world? So many of these had fat hands, broad faces, heavy legs and ankles. Some of them even spoke with an accent, being Poles or the children of Poles, living in that slum north of the mill. And they were all concerned with catching a “feller,” going to some dancing place with him afterwards, and little more. Also, Clyde had noticed that the American types who were here were of a decidedly different texture, thinner, more nervous and for the most part more angular, and with a general reserve due to prejudices, racial, moral and religious, which would not permit them to mingle with these others or with any men, apparently.
from Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, book 2, chapter 12