Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Flight Behaviour - Barbara Kingsolver

Dear Barbara Kingsolver,

To say that you raised the bar in environmental and geographic-centered fiction would be an understatement. In Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer, not only did you escort your readers to the places in which the story lines took wings, but you provided detailed, dead-center references, chains of occurrences, birdseye views of fauna and flora central to your settings and oh so necessary to your plots and character developments. In a way the fauna and flora were characters in their own right, tying your plots and settings and characters together, weaving around and across and into your stories like the tightly knit webs of natural material they represented.

But for some reason, in Flight Behaviour, you felt you had to create your story and make your point by bringing in an occurrence which did not mesh with the area about which you were writing. Yes, the phenomenon of the orange butterflies did take place, but in Mexico, not at all in Appalachia. Perhaps you were so amazed and mesmerized by the sadness of the plight of the Orange Monarch butterflies that you wanted to write about them anyway, but did not feel comfortable confining your story to Mexico. Unfortunately what transpires is a story that is kind of not here and not there. The same lack of conviction with which you try to transport the Orange butterflies to Appalachia seems to inhere in not only your characters, but the deus ex machina ending, in which everything simply floods away. That is not like you. You give your characters and even nature a choice. You didn't, this time.

Ah, well. Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer still tower above other environmental/geographic fiction offerings.

Here's to your next.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger - #2

Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger - #2

It is easy to peg Catcher as a novel of teenage angst, but one almost wants to tell Holden, "Hey, if you'd been born in the 1950's and come of age in the late 1960's, you'd have had  a much easier time of it." Letting kids show their individuality more and play to/with their talents was just around the corner.

As a matter of fact, if one reads Catcher as a playback of the underside of the 1950's, it seems painful but achingly accurate in some ways. The rich prep students and their parents are either phony and self-absorbed or nice but unreflective.  The Beats and musicians are talented but cynical and aloof. It is as if Holden is angry at the poses they all have to maintain just to put across an image to frame their lives as salable and livable. One can of  course include D.B., his talented Hollywood script-writing brother in this cavalcade.

And we only encounter his parents by hearsay, never in person.

The wholly good characters: his sister Phoebe and his dead brother Allie.

Holden is actually a microcosm of an entire generation waiting to erupt. As they will.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015