Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Report

The Confessions of Nat Turner
William Styron

I've read Sophie's Choice a long time ago and before this book and I marvel at the fact that an author can ask us to accept so many questions and contradictions that are never resolved, and we are yet inevitably satisfied. In fact we close the book looking more closely at our own mysteries and suddenly start thinking of them as less than mundane.

In 1831, a black slave sits in a jail cell, after leading a slave revolt that let over 50 whites dead, contemplating his impending hanging and running over the contradictions that led him there. Sometimes the voice of God calls to him clearly, sometimes he ponders whether the voice of God is one that only exists in his head. He preaches hate and butchery, but cannot himself kill except for a mercy killing of one who he a strange attraction and yet repulsion for. His revolt lead to the retaliation of the white population against the blacks so that 200 blacks that had nothing to do with this revolt died. The small emancipation voice in the legislation fades and stricter slave laws are put into effect.

So, what was the point?

Nat Turner is caught up in this world of contradictions, capable of feeling love, he is also capable of quelling it to act out his revenge. His curious choice of eliminating everyone - not just the whites that have been cruel to their slaves, but their small children, their kind daughters - make him a monster. But his observations and insight also make him a man of compassion - and since ne'er the twain shall meet all of us are left wondering, what did he really expect to accomplish and why?

And the larger theme being, do these dangerous contradictions exist today? Which road to we take and what reasoning must go with it? Was Nat a folk hero or a lunatic?
Styron deftly forces us to decide for ourselves. And in the end, we somehow are compelled to make that choice, aware that that what really shows through Styron's stylishly winding prose is that the heat of life will keep on humming and confusing us, with its offal and its flowers.

Poignant prose. 5 out of 5 and a Pulitzer thrown in.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 5, 2010


"But tell me now, where was my fault
In loving you with my whole heart"


30 Juin 2001 / June 30, 2001

Ton pays, il ressemble un peu au crois comprendre de
plus en plus Erin que le pays que je cherche s'il existe
n'est pas fait de terre, d'arbre, de ne
s'agit en fait pas d'un pays....tu disais : `c'est ca que
je cherche, cette domicile, ce monde a moi ou je peux
placer mes esperances et ma tristesse....dis-moi
Fred...penses-tu a cet endroit...est-ce que c'est possible
a le trouver a ton avis?`...ce monde dans lequel tu peux
placer tes experances et tes tristesses je pense que c'est
un monde entouree de peau, un monde avec du sang qui coule
dans ces veines....ce monde est humain....ce monde va
bouger et evoluer avec toi....c'est je crois.....


Your country ... it's a lot like mine. I believe I understand more and more, Erin, that the country I'm seeking (if it exists) isn't made of earth or trees or houses. It isn't about a country at all.

You said: "It's what I'm searching for, this domicile, my own world, where I can put my hopes and my sadness. Tell me, Fred, do you think about this place? Do you think that I'll ever find it?"

I think this world of yours, where you can put your hopes and sadness, is a world surrounded by skin, with blood that runs in its veins. It's a human world - it will evolve and move with you. That's what I believe.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Report

Next on my journey to complete the ambitious 26 "Lists of Bests" I've set out for myself, I decided to hit Sebastian Faulks' "Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War."

The novel came highly recommended, highly rated and was on several lists of "books you should read before you die." There's a lesson in that last categorization. Because after reading this novel, and having to acknowledge that there are that many people that think it's a masterpiece, dying looks pretty good.

The premise is sound enough, centering around a young Englishman who has an affair with the charming wife of a slightly sadistic mill owner while staying in Amiens, France and then later follows his travails in the trenches of World War I. There's a random more "modern" annoying character from 1978 thrown into the mix but I'll get to that in a minute.

I have several complaints about this book apart from it being a complete waste of time and making that book on hedge funds that my boss left in my chair "for Labor Day reading" all the more enticing. The language is cloutish and unrelentingly awkward. Every character speaks exactly the same - like a philosopher in a Victorian novel (something of which I was once accused of in a writer's circle and thus can easily peg). Halfway through the book, I actually decided to look up Faulks' nationality, thinking that maybe a clumsy translator had made mincemeat or his otherwise promising prose. It was then that I discovered he was British. Which explained the first of my complaints.

If ever you have read a Harlequin romance, however ironically, take those play-by-plays and imagine that they were written by a British man. Big deal, you say. Ha! You must not have ever been sexually involved with an Englishman, because overall (with some exceptions of course, which I doubt Faulks falls into) their lovemaking skills are as bad as their dentists. I actually had to start flipping through the pages (and pages) of the "torrid affair" because I felt some vomit rise in my throat. A German could've done better, really.

I'm just glad that Faulks informed us that it wasn't just about sex - the hero had "feelings" for her too. Wow. It must be real love if it needs to be pointed out.

Anyway, that about covers the "Love" part, except for some self-involved female character from 1978 who we later learn - and I'm really giving nothing away here - is a descendant of this sensitive British man. Her kicks are designing and having an affair with a married man. There's a weird scene where a man she only went on a couple of dates with suddenly demands that she marry him, but then he disappears as arbitrarily as he came and she discovers that she is then pregnant with her lover's child.

In fact random disappearing characters was a recurring theme in the book. I want to give Faulks some credit here. Maybe something like "this is a tribute to the transience of people in our lives." But I just can't. I think the fucker had too difficult of a time developing the main characters - mostly unsuccessfully. Having to add humanness to these minor persons was simply too much for the old guy.

The "modern woman" part was was completely pointless, except for one thing. The description of her birthing her love child (with married lover completely supporting her to add to the unbelievability factor) was far more gruesome than any of the war scenes in the "War" portion of the book. Rotting bodies, blown-out brains and random dismemberments I can completely deal with. Long descriptions of placenta trailing out of a woman's nether regions was frankly too much for this girl to handle. More page-skipping.

Which brings me to my final observation. I'm pretty sure that many of the war scenes were parroted by Faulks from Remarques's far more noble "All Quiet on the Western Front." A novel that is somehow not making these lists with the frequency it deserves. Well, it did make the all-important list of "Hitler's books to burn because they might scare people out of starting a war."

All Faulks did was scare me off childbirth and reading more sex scenes written by British men.

"Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War." Very highly not recommended.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


There comes a moment in every young woman's life where she sees that it might be time to be a grown-up.

Like when you're hanging out at 4 in the morning with a young musician in drag that you met in a bar after a wedding and his young musician friends in a one bedroom house that seven people are living in who all trip over drum sets and sequester weed away in very odd places. And as you sat there, still gussed up to the nines from a fancy plantation marriage in contrast to all the hemp clothing surrounding you, you think "there was really a point when living with other people really stopped being all that cool. Even if they are very talented and have a CD to prove it, it's annoying to have a line to the bathroom in one's own abode."

Or you sit on French Quarter stoops with a long-lost friend with a hand grenade that has a smiley face on it, and you start talking about other things that should have smiley faces on them for really inappropriate reasons and one thing leads to another and you are more than ready to have her take a snapshot of you giving a "hand grenade-job."

Or everything starts going double at 4pm due to said hand grenade and several maker's and gingers and you calmly tell said friend that you're going to puke, do so and then calmly come back and order another drink.

Or you start telling large handsome black men that they have the majestic faces of a tribal chief, and when they say they are only from Baton Rouge-via Beaumont-via Houston wave your hand dismissively and say "I'm sure there are Masai warriors that would claim you as one of their own."

That's right. There are times in a young woman's life that should convince her it might be the moment to grow up.

I'm sure it's coming any day now.