Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Room with a View

            Girl meets boy. Girl denies feelings for said boy. Girl meets other boy. Girl forces feelings for other boy for the sake of propriety. First boy is up in arms about it all, because romance is not dead. This is the narrative of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room with a View*. “Girl” is Lucy Honeychurch (no joke)—a young woman struggling to control her own destiny in early 20th century England. Talk about finding love in a hopeless place.

            Lucy’s ambiguous, slow-forming desire for “more” is a marvel given her insufferable peers/family members. Her cousin once informed her, “It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much” (Forster, 31). I can imagine a woman telling her significant other, “It’s not you—it’s me and my failure to inspire you to get off your ass.”

            We’ve heard these kinds of stories before. Edna Pontellier in The Awakening also shows us a woman whose societal expectations restrain her ability to seek passion and joy. She too finds repose in music and nature—because these are the few realms where she can run relatively wild without compromising her honor (this predates Girls Gone Wild). Lucy finds a much happier ending than Edna, which morbidly may be why I prefer Edna’s tale. We see Lucy start to think critically about her situation—the feminist wheels are turning—but she ultimately settles for a life that is the lesser of two inequality evils. Edna blows the whole scam wide open. If you’re looking for a milder take on the subject, definitely opt for A Room with a View. I think it’s worth noting that E.M. Forster was male; he might trend towards optimism in comparison with Kate Chopin’s literal experiences with the harsh reality of oppressed womanhood. Of course, I do appreciate the male perspective on the issue, which is why Tom Robbins is one of my favorites. 

            Forster’s story might have left me wanting, but his words definitely weren’t of the weak variety. Sometimes, I’m in the mood to read some old school English. The pace is soothing, the witty phrases belong to a kind of intellectual rareness that no longer exists in contemporary literature, and the characters react to drama in ways that are refreshingly relatable. I also enjoy unintentionally funny phrases like “we will incommode you no longer” (Forster, 19). His dialogue was especially striking—there were times when he reminded me of Salinger, with his unremitting yet interesting back and forth banter.

            I’m a sucker for a plot where the protagonist breaks out of his/her bubble and undergoes a kind of mind-expanding event. Throw in hot literary devices (some subtle symbolism, a dash of conflict), and I’m sold. But as a coming-of-age novel, it is slightly insufficient. Lucy was on the precipice of some serious self-actualization, and I wish we could have seen more of her dive. Thus, A Room with a View receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.

*Forster, E.M. A Room with a View. New York: Dover Publications, 1908. Print.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Post Office

            Bukowksi is a smooth talker, if you’re willing to listen. He just wants to tell you his uncensored tales of drinking and sex! He just wants to tell you about how he worked for the Man—in and out of postal service jobs for over a decade. He just wants to impress you with his ability to overcome hangovers. He’s just a guy who did whatever he felt like at the time to make ends meet, until he hit a wall and succumbed to drunken oblivion. He woke up and noted, “It was morning and I was still alive. Maybe I’ll write a novel…And then I did” (Bukowski, 196). And then he did, so here we are.

            Almost two years ago, I read and reviewed my first Bukowski novel, Ham on Rye. Chronologically, Post Office* preceded Ham on Rye, and I’ll admit that I personally prefer the former. To give you, dear readers, some context, let me say that Charles Bukowski is to Henry Chinaski as BeyoncĂ© is to Sasha Fierce. Chinaski is Bukowski’s literary alter ego, and the bulk of Bukowski’s fiction is a thinly veiled depiction of his own life, with Chinaski at the helm. Ham on Rye reeks of justifiable bitterness; Chinaski is treated terribly by his dad as a child, and as a result he grows up cynical and at odds with life. Post Office retains that cynicism, but this time around, Chinaski doesn’t express as many existential woes. He works at the post office when it suits him, and places bets at the racetrack when it doesn’t. We truly see Chinaski grow up from Ham on Rye; his pessimism becomes less disorienting, and he’s able to hold down a job and a lover for a reasonable amount of time. That being said, Chinaski does what he wants. He’s animalistic in his pursuits, and he’ll quit something immediately if he feels so inclined. But there is less fallout than in Ham on Rye. He confidently steers his life in a specific direction, even if it’s conventionally discouraged.

            There’s something to be said for warming up to an author. I enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov better than Crime and Punishment, partially because I knew what to expect. I understood Dostoevsky’s style a bit more, and I appreciated it more as a result. I knew what bothered me about him, and I dodged those bullets; likewise, I knew what I enjoyed, and I embraced those aspects. Bukowski’s crudeness did not come as a surprise, and his piggishness towards women was less shocking. When he sees a random woman on the street and says, “That big ass beckoned me. I was hypnotized”, I didn’t instantaneously roll my eyes—I waited at least three seconds (Bukowski, 150). Bukowski is unapologetically boorish, and that’s part of his appeal. He’s the ultimate bachelor, with no regard for others if he’s not feeling it. If you can’t get behind that at all, then this novel is not for you.

When a book’s opening line is “It began as a mistake”, I know that I’m in for a treat (Bukowski, 13). I enjoy reading about other people’s mistakes, because it makes me feel less miserable about my own.  This novel further cemented Bukowski as *one of the greats* in my own literary archive, but it also wasn’t “one of the funniest books ever written”, as touted on the back of the book. It was definitely funny, but chill out with that. I relish in Bukowski’s raw vulnerability and his characteristic self-confidence; thus, I give Post Office 4 out of 5 camel humps.

*Bukowski, Charles. Post Office. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1971. Print.