I have two more books on my list, but instead, I bring you this brief interlude. I went into the the office one day last week to write reference letters for students. I’m super cheerful, haven’t been there in a while and so am greeting colleagues like old friends who have been slogging away in the trenches all year. My office is lovely with paintings from former students scattered about, two gold-fish tanks and three goldfish and a large stained glass in front of my window that I won at an auction some time back. As I settled in at my desk and began to empty my empty in-box one of my rather “creative” colleagues snuck up to my door and scared the living bejeezus out of me. (Great word that bejeezus). Startled, I swung around, knocking the rather large (venti even) cup of Starbucks non-fat, half-sweet, gingerbread latte, no whipped, (Have you ever tried it this way? Vegan Girl put me onto it and while she gets her’s with soy, this version is rather delicious.) directly into the keyboard of my MacBook Pro. That’s right. Coffee for everyone, half-sweet.I immediately turned the thing up-side down to watch my life-line (the coffee) drip out of my life-line (MacBook). Creative Colleague was mortified. (He recently asked me out (even though my husband is technically his boss), and when I politely declined, he asked after my mother, as in, would she go out with him.) I thought he was going to have a stroke so I assured him it was fine and even pretended to type on it.
Said computer is now drip dried. When you type, it crunches, like a great potato snack, but without the fat. The “u” no longer works. Initially, I thought, “Who cares. How often do I use a ‘u’ anyway?” It turns out that one uses an “u” all the friggin time. (In fact in this post so far I have “u”sed 34 “u’s”). Now, I was still not panicked. I have had previous creative exchanges with my apple products and normally I go an Apple Store and flirt a little with a genius (should I be ashamed about this? Hell, no) and low and behold, the repair is made in record time for now charge. For instance, I have twice shattered the glass top on my iphone and poured orange juice into the cracks around the tracking pad on this same MacBook. Each time, I have had lovely assistants at the Genius Bar. Perhaps word has gotten out. Maybe there’s a “Beware of this Woman” sign in the staff room. Or maybe with the passing of Mr. Jobs, Apple is no longer as friendly a place as it once was. Death can do that. At any rate the still rather cute in a nerdy sort of way genius-type asks me what happened, I’m flirty, not in a stupid, wide-eyed kind of way, but rather, with a knowing grin and a wink kind of way. He didn’t bite. Instead, my computer would have to be sent away. The good news? There was a $750.00 flat fee, no matter what’s wrong with it. Now, that’s getting close to the cost of a new computer. And everything about this computer work, excepts for the “u”. So Im pretty sure it just needs to be cleaned and maybe a new keyboard popped on. I say this to my genius. He’s not my genius. There’s no give there at all. He’s not even half-sweet.
So now, I’m using another computer, taking a break so to speak. You see, I got up this morning and took the back off the Coffee Computer, thinking I might try the repair myself. After all, those geniuses don’t look that smart. It turns out there are a lot of bits and pieces you have to get past before you get to the keyboard. And then, assuming you get there, you have reassemble all those bits in a way that resembles how you found them, or, at least, this is what I assume. So I made myself a coffee–skim latte no sweet. it’s going to be a long day and i’m going to have to toughen up.
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is a really well-crafted, well-written, interesting and funny book. Honestly. It’s really good. And that’s not just my opinion. I am stating it as an objective fact. (And if you don’t believe me, then believe a Pulitzer Prize). We’re told in the novel that “time’s a goon.” And so the novel is about time, the passage of time, things getting fucked up in time, and things ultimately being redeemed in time. And by things, I mean people and by people, I also mean music. This novel is about a jumble of characters all of whose lives, in one or another, intersect even if they don’t really know this and the book spans their lives sometimes from high school to death, sometimes, the suggestion is, even further. Time is their good. And perhaps they are the “the goon squad.”
There’s Bennie the terrible bass player who becomes a sell-out music executive who becomes something else in the end. There’s Sasha who we see as child, as a run away team, a Kleptomaniac, as Bennie’s assistant and as something else. There’s Jocelyn, who at 16 falls in love with Lou, the too-old record producer. They are a couple. And so, we come to understand are Jocelyn and Lou’s son. Lou’s son kills himself, Jocelyn becomes a drug addict, Lou gets old beside his pool. There’s Rob who we understand to be gay, but is unable to actually be gay. He drowns. And there’s this guy named Bix, Lizzie’s boyfriend. But he’s black and so her parents, from Texas, can’t meet him. Bix is in the novel for only a few pages. But his role is most important. Bix has a poster of Judgement Day in his apartment. Bix who works on computers before computers are a big deal. Bix who takes ecstasy with Rob and reveals that he’s had a vision of the judgement. There’ll be time and place when people no longer lose touch and those we’ve lost will be found. And no one will get lost again. And then there are about 200 hundred more pages and we never hear from Bix again. And Rob dies. But Sasha is found and has two kids, one of whom really likes a “pause”.
I’ve read some reviews that suggest that this book is post-modern. But I think those cats got it wrong. Sure these characters have angst. Sure they seem to be all over the place, without direction or end in sight. But that’s ok. Because time is a goon. And we’re all part of the squad. So time’s goonish means that we’re going to screw up. But time’s goonish means that it keeps rolling on. And in time we might also be redeemed, some characters are. But some aren’t. But we know that the best songs have a “pause.” A break wherein all time is confounded. And in this pause, we’re all redeemed. You just have to wait and bide your time.
Next up? The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. A Christmas present. No promises made. The giver had not read the book. Just a review and hoped I’d like it. And I did and I didn’t. It reminded my of Franzen’s Freedom which I also liked and didn’t like. But I can put my finger more easily on my pulse for Marriage Plot than I could for Freedom. (Probably because I read it more quickly. Not an indictment either way about either author. I’m just unsure. Alright? Feel free to convince me.)
Marriage Plot is about Madeleine, an English major whose romantic heart and mind is captured by the Victorian era (mostly) of literature. She’s taken by the idea that “real” novels revolve around and end in a woman being married. The so-called marriage plot. And Madeleine is not cynical about this plot. That’s the kind of literature that she loves. Not surprisingly, then, Madeleine’s life revolves around her love interests. Two men court Madeleine. There’s the guy manic depressive who she thinks she might save from himself and the moody religious one who’s mad about her. Of course, she chooses the first and disdains the second.
Despite all her attempts at true love, and despite the presence of two men who seem both to be actually good guys who might both love her, The Marriage Plot does not end in a marriage. It ends in the end of a marriage. And the end of an almost love affair. No happy unions here. Instead, the three characters go off alone. And that ending makes this novel good. Read it–you’ll see.
And, also in the good category, is the fact that these two guys both do the noble thing in the end. The Manic Depressive, now depressed, realizes he is ruining our heroine’s life. And so, he leaves her even though he clearly thinks he needs her for his health and happiness. The Religious Brooder also lets her go. Even though he’s loved her from the first time that he saw her and sees no end to his love. At the end of the novel, Madeleine is free. And we know that this is best. She doesn’t need a man to be happy and she needs some time without one to figure out who the hell she is.
But here’s the part I’m not sure about. The end of the novel is told primarily from the two men’s perspectives. They have done noble things and left. Madeleine seems utterly dependent on their good judgment. And, to be honest, we never really get any sense that she’s in control of her life. She depends on her wealthy family. She depends on her roommates. Then she depends on Manic Depressive. And then it is the Religious Brooder. So even though the ending of The Marriage Plot is about independence and freedom and so seems un-Victorian in nature, Madeleine is your typical weak female character. She’s nowhere need Austen’s Elizabeth, for instance. And so is this the point? That even though women don’t have to be married to succeed in life, at the end of the day they still desire and need to depend on men, if only to give them the freedom that will ultimately be “good” for them? Because if that’s the point, I disliked this novel. Immensely.
But you should read it. And let me know…
So here’s the deal. It was just Christmas, right? So we had a lot of time off. And so, I read books.
And Red Sox Fan was home from school for about five weeks. And the name might be misleading because she doesn’t just like baseball. She likes all Boston sports. And while I like baseball and can carry on elementary level conversation about the other big two (hockey and football), I really have no interest in watching them on television. So what to do while the Bruins are playing the Razorheads or the Patriots play the Camelhumps? I read books.
And then there is the seven hour drive to Red Sox Fan’s school and back. And the fact that G. is a little particular about driving, so he does all of it. And so that’s a lot of forest to look at or, one could read books.
The short and the long of it is that I’ve read a lot of books in the past few weeks and so this week is going to be a lot of book reviews. Ok? Got it? Good.
First up is an unlikely contender for me. Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I know. I haven’t read a Steven King novel since I was in Grade 8. I think it was Christine. And then, I guess I just grew up? Didn’t like to make myself afraid/depressed/… when there are enough real life things that are frightening or depressing? At any rate, I jut stopped.
But this Xmas G. read 11/22/63 and recommended it. And G. does not recommend things lightly. So I read it and so should you.
It’s a book that’s kind of about the nature of history, time travel, kind of about the space time continuum, kind of about providence. It’s also a love story. A real love story. And in that it is lovely.
The main character, Jake Epping, gets a chance to travel back in time and stop the assassination of JFK, the idea being that the current world could only be better had that not happened.
I’m not going to wreck it for you. It’s really good and, like other King novels I remember, the suspense will carry you through. But I will say this. Lots of horror novels by King that I read in my youth seemed to hearken back to the good ‘ol days, the 50′s or maybe 60′s when cars came alive and Prom’s meant something. And Jake Epping gets kind of seduced by the idea of living when soda pop tasted like something. But this novel is not that. It’s not a romanticization of the past. Instead it’s a nod to the present, to the future. It’s a book about life being good. Not about life having been good. And above all its a book about understanding that you’re not in control and lots of times, it turns out better that way.
My dog brings me things. I’ve written before about this particular fetish Previously he was universal in his interests. Maps of Venice, swimming goggles, shoes, dishtowels, cd’s. Recently he has zeroed in on a particular kind of thing: boxes. That’s right. My dog brings me boxes. All sizes, from jewlry boxes to the giagantic box that the enternatiment centre came in. He really had to wrestle that sucker in to the living room, but he is undaunted by things such as space and time.
Last nights the boxes just kept coming. There was the box that had contained the new dishes my mom bought me for Christmas. That was followed by the box from my new sneakers. Then the box that had Red Sox Fan’s printer. Then there wer boxes that I couldn’t ienitfy and had no idea where he got them from. By the time he got worn out from his adventures, I was surrounded by boxes and he happily fells asleep on my foot. Not sure what he accomplished but he sure was pleased with himself.
I’m not sure what the dealio with the boxes is. It started around Christmas. I guess because there were so many boxes around the house and everyone was interested in the box. ”Look at what I got G. It’s in this box.” We all crowd around the box. I better get wrapping these boxes. Look at all the boxes under the tree. And then there was the unwrapping of the boxes. Boxes get attention, ergo if the Big Arsed Dog has a box, he’ll get attention. And if this is the plan, it works. Because if you don’t get the box out of his mouth, he’ll begin to tear it to pieces. And that’s a pain my much smaller arse to clean up.
Or mayber Big Arsed Dog thinks he’s bringing me a present. ”I don’t know what the big deal is about these rectangular cartons made out of cardboard. But she sure gets excited when she gets one.” And so he brings me one.
But what Arsed Dog doesn’t know if that he doesn’t need to bring me boxes. Because he’s more present than my little black heart can handle all by himself.
Just sitting in the office this morning, sipping a coffee and getting ready to respond to the various emails that came in last night. It’s Vegan Girl. It’s 8:45. School started 15 minutes ago.
“Hey Vegan Girl. What’s up?” I pretended not to know the time, day or nature of the call. That’s how I roll.
“You need to come get me. The bus missed me.” That’s how Vegan Girl rolls.
Although I was amused, Dante would have been rolling over in his grave laughing. I hope he has a nice big grave. Did you know that Florence, who exiled him, wanted his body back after he was dead and made it big? I hope he’s also giving them a big ol’ middle finger in that grave. (But of course in a charitable, paradiso way, because that’s how he should roll). But I digress. Dante of course is the guy who reads Aquinas, imagines on the basis of Aquinas’s Summa what the afterworld looks like in three parts, inferno, purgatory and paradise, and them, takes every one of Aquinas’s logical syllogisms and turns them into the most beautiful piece of poetry that has ever been written. Dante was quite the guy.
The most interesting point that we learn from Dante is not that things get done to us (like the bus missing us or God rewarding us or God punishing us). God doesn’t do things to you. He’s got better things going on up there. Instead, Dante write and Aquinas agrees, we all get what we want, what we desire. That’s justice and that’s love. So if what you want is to eat an entire bucket of chicken yourself, then you must also want the terrible stomach ache and but jiggle that comes with it. And guess what, you can have that. Or if what you want is to sleep in and then wash, dry and straighten your hair, then you must also want to miss your bus and get a drive to school. And guess what? Vegan Girl got exactly that. But, if what you want is to love others and to be loved in return. You might occasionally then get taken advantage of and screwed over, but ultimately (fullness of time kind of deal), all you’ll get is love. All the people that Dante depicts in the Divine Comedy get exactly the consequences that there actions indicated they wanted. You love to talk shit? Then you’re in Inferno, eating shit. Perfect, yes?
But Vegan Girl’s argument is interesting too. A world wherein we have no intentions, but instead, things juts happen to us. For instance,
“Honey, there’s no money in the bank.”
“I know. It said it needed some space and decided to stay at the mall.”
“Oh my god. Are you alright? That pot of boiling water just jumped out of my hands and flew at an amazing speed toward your face.”
Right. Right? I guess that means there’s, in the very least, a place in purgatory with my name on it.
Trying to figure out what to have for dinner tonight with Red Sox Fan.
“What should we have for dins?”
“I don’t know.”
“We can have anything you want. There’s lots of time so we could make somehting delicious or we could out somewhere–anywhere at all. Your pick.” Minutes pass.
“I don’t know.”
“No limits, Red Sox Fan. We can have anything you want. Your choice.”
“Ok, well just let me know…” Hours have passed and I’m still hungry.
Sometimes, too much freedom is not a good thing. This is the “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” kind of freedom.
Then’s there’s the, “I don’t care if you like it or not. You will eat your peas/brussel sprouts/broccoli/spinach,” freedom, which is actually no freedom at all and you’ve got a lot to lose–like dessert or your tv time.
But the best kind of freedom is the third kind. The kind where you actually know what you want and you’re able to have it kind of freedom.
So not the, “I think I want to drink a dozen shots of tequila right now, but will regret it tomorrow” kind of freedom. You know the kind of freedom where you think you know what you want, but realize a little while later that was exactly what you didn’t want? Bceause even if you were free to drink that tequila, dance on that table and go home with that loser, it’s a kind of freedom that turns into a prison cell when you unwrap its package (and no dirty pun intended, well almost not intended).
And not the kind of freedom where you know exactly what you want AND you’re absolutely right. If you had THAT you would be absolutely and entirely happy. Like if only I owned a pony/motorcycle/pool table/pool/island, then I’d be good to go. BUT you’re absolutely incapable of making that happen. Because while you might be free to dream, what the hell are dreams worth in the cold light of day.
Instead, it’s the kind of freedom where you know what will make you happy AND you get it. You’re not free from things in this example (like free from Bobby McGee), but instead, you’re free with something. You get to freely participate in your will. This is the happy freedom.
So now, if only I could get free with a McNugget or a steak or a even a pot of mashed potatoes … I may have to impose my will on Red Sox Fan. Sometimes, when you don’t know what’s best, it’s better to freely go along with those who do. or at least those who are stronger and older and who have method of payment.
“Shoes on, Red Sox Fan. We’re going out.”