Monday, August 17, 2015

Quick takes - July/Aug 2015

This should have been done at the end of July, but the 24-hour play-writing thing, plus a trip down to Niagara-on-the-Lake really took more out of me than I thought.  I'm finding quite a number of things I would like to blog about in fairly long form, which is kind of good (when I have the time), so I'll try to keep this set of mini-reviews pretty brief.

There will almost certainly be SPOILERS ahead. 

Many people find Molly Keane's Good Behaviour to be their favourite novel.  I can sort of understand why, though I had a mixed reaction to the book, particularly the sudden twist at the end.  The narrator is so monstrous at the beginning of the book that it is part of the fun trying to understand how she turned out that way.  Certainly of all the unpleasant mothers in Keane's work (it truly is an obsession with her), this one is right up there.  She puts her daughter down pretty much constantly.  What is different in this case is that she is totally feckless when it comes time to running the estate (most of the monstrous mothers in Keane's fiction are at least competent, but this is a weird hybrid of Keane and Comyns).  This one just hides bills and stops talking to the lawyer who is trying to sort out the problems.  In fact, the narrator is the one who slowly consolidates power, simply by paying some attention to reality.  (Sort of.  She has this fantasy that this closeted homosexual man will end up marrying her.)  Things look pretty grim, however, when her father dies after complications from a stroke.  But surprise -- he left everything to her in the will, and this is how she gains control over her mother.  I assume a number of readers like the revenge twist, but I had a bad feeling in my mouth over a plot point that would simply be illegal in the States and Canada (perhaps it was feasible in Ireland at the time).

Albert Cossery's Proud Beggars lets you know right up front that one of the main characters commits a senseless murder, and the focus is not really so much whether the police detective will find the killer but the way that this crime does or does not impact the killer and his two best friends.  It is a strange but intriguing blend of Camus's The Stranger and Mahfouz's cafe-based novels.  (When I get around to reading Cossery's The Jokers, I may finally be inspired to review his Cairo Trilogy.)  I think Cossery does have a fairly cynical take on society and how corruption pervades Egyptian society to the point that anyone who participates fully in society is a dupe or a criminal (and it's probably worse to merely be a dupe).  The cynicism of the three friends starts to rub off on the detective, and he does wonder if he is wasting his time. (Interestingly, in Durrenmatt's play The Physicists, the inspector comes more or less to the same conclusion and he can't wait until he can retire and no longer worry about the murders committed in the psychiatric hospital.)

I was only a few pages into Carla Tomaso's Matricide when the tone started changing.  The beginning was somewhat manic and promising, about how this burned out teacher is going to go to a female-only writing retreat with her principal, and a former student more or less hitches a ride.  The narrative seems like one will keep stumbling across loads of lesbians in unexpected places, which is a bit comic, but then the teacher hooks up with a much older poet who reminds her of her mother.  And then there is a very overt and not that well-handled incest theme hanging over the rest of the novel.  Too bad, as I was enjoying it until that point, but after that, I knew I wasn't going to hang onto the book.  I would have felt much worse about that (it's one of the last from my mother's collection), but I recalled that I did have Bruno Schulz and a few others.  Now Bruno Schulz will merit an stand-alone review, I guess written when I am back from the States.

I will also be reviewing Gabrielle Roy's Street of Riches shortly as a separate review.  I'd like to get this posted by the end of the month, but that may not happen.  (I can't actually blog at all from my work laptop, and that is all I am taking on my trip to the States...)

After that, my reading slowed down considerably.  In part because I decided to tackle Moby Dick again (as I will be seeing it as a play in Chicago).  I thought I might skim parts of it, but really I am finding even the asides to be full of a really dry humour, so it looks like I will go ahead and read the whole thing (good thing I have some time to kill on the bus and in various airports).  Also, the weather has generally been cooperating, and I don't read as much on the days I ride to work.  I've seen quite a few plays these past two weeks, and the rest of my evenings have been taken up with small home improvements.

Since SummerWorks is over, there isn't much point in blogging about Svitch's Upon the Fragile Shore at great length.  I have mixed feelings about the play.  I think it does not have enough dramatic shape and it definitely seemed too long.  It is basically a catalog of bad things that happen, mostly due to man's inhumanity to man, but not always.  If you have ever read Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy, you may know what I am talking about.  One bad thing piled onto another onto another.  (Actually, there is some shape to that trilogy since virtually everything that happens in those books can be blamed on the U.S. ...)  There is some relief here and there, but overall it feels like a negative experience, and the way she frames it almost makes you feel bad for just sitting back and soaking in all this misery from the comfort of your seats.  But I thought the language and imagery was strong in some places.  I particularly liked the Aurora, Boston and Kuala Lumpur episodes.  The only one I would definitely drop (were I her editor) was the stuff about Louisiana that I found very weak.  (I should also note that if I ever manage to stage Dharma Donuts, I'll at least see if one of the actors here wants the role of the spunky Hispanic sidekick.  I suspect my play isn't sufficiently cutting-edge for her, but one never knows.)

I also went and saw Julius Caesar in High Park.  Once again, I cut it very close, only turning up a few minutes before they released the reserved seats!  I didn't care much for the post-modern touches, particularly when one of Brutus's friends had a V for Victory mask on and then pulled it off to reveal the Caesar mask.  I went and looked up the script afterwards, and they cut one of Brutus's speeches at the end (probably ok -- I was definitely ready to go by that point) but they rolled Cinna the Poet and the Soothsayer together with some other lines of a random Roman.  Even that wouldn't have been so bad, but then they put long speeches in the mouth of the Southsayer/Cinna, and as far as I can tell, this came from some completely different source, i.e. not Shakespeare.  That just goes too far for my taste, so I don't think I would recommend it on that grounds alone, even setting aside the postmodern touches at the end.  But I still would highly recommend The Comedy of Errors, which I believe runs through Sept. 6, so a few more weeks to catch it.

That's really more than enough to cover what I have been up to these past 6 weeks or so.  

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