Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 68

1. AOTW--I don't really have anyone all that "special" this week, just, as usual, the drivers who behave as if rules are for Everyone Else, not for them. Do you remember the Jeff Bridges film Starman (1984)? He's an amiable alien inhabiting the body of Karen Allen's late husband. But he's clueless. When he drives her car, he accelerates wildly through yellow lights. Allen asks him why. He says (sort of) that he's learned from Earthlings that yellow means "speed up." (Trailer for film.) He was right. I nearly get clipped by such folks all the time.

2. I'm about a third of the way through Salman Rushdie's new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, a wildly imaginative story about a time in the not-so-distant future when things have ... changed. The world is off kilter. The jinn have begun interfering in human affairs in a major way. I'll write more about it later, but I'm enjoying a great ride as I'm reading it.

3. Two Nerds in Open Door Coffee Company on Sunday Morning. Joyce and I are there every Sunday morning, reading the New York Times, drinking hot beverages, eating pastries that are far too good for our own good. In the Book Review today a sentence in a review of Joy Williams' new collection of short stories occasioned a tiny Grammar Discussion between us (see what I mean about nerds?). (Joy Williams, by the way, is one of my favorites!)

Here's the sentence:

The stories span almost 50 years, and even the earliest of them shimmer with death and mystery ....

We discussed whether the verb should be shimmers. For--in one reading--only one can be earliest, right? But, of course, we have a "loose use" for words like earliest, too. No one would see anything wrong with this: I like reading her earliest stories. Or: I bought a collection of her earliest stories. So ... shimmer can work if you're using earliest in its loosely plural sense. I said this morning that I'd probably avoid that construction--or modify it to something like even her earliest stories shimmer, avoiding the sniff-sniff of Grammar Nerds (like us).

4. Okay, the main business this morning. This week I finished Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Purity. I've been reading Franzen for quite a while--The Corrections was the first. And after I read it (loving it), I promptly bought his earlier (earliest?) novels (The Twenty-Seventh City, 1988, and Strong Motion, 1992) and read (and admired) them, as well. And since The Corrections (2001) I've kept up with his writing--both fiction and nonfiction (even got to review his memoir The Discomfort Zone (2006).

On Sunday, September 7, 2010, I got to meet him--sort of. The Cleveland Public Library invited Franzen to speak (thanks to friend Ron Antonucci, a librarian there), so Joyce and I rode the Rapid down to Public Square and walked over to the library, got primo seats (I was on the aisle so I could sprint to be early in line for the signing after the talk--and I was, indeed, the very first), and heard him deliver a good speech, but one that he'd given elsewhere (as he frankly told us).

I got him to sign all the books I'd brought with me (all of his books) as well as the cover of Time magazine--August 23, 2010--a cover now framed and hanging on our wall. So there! Got to chat with him a little about his other books while the waiters behind me evinced various forms of Impatience. (Too bad!)

Okay, Purity. I thought the beginning was a little slow, but once I "got into it," as they say, the flow of Franzen's tale swept me along, all the way to its very moving conclusion (which, of course, I will not reveal--other than to say it does not involve UFOs).

A murder, family (parents and children), East-West politics at the end of WW II, Internet leaks (think: Julian Assange), sex, betrayal, the mysteries of love, nuclear weapons, exotic locations (how does a South American jungle suit you?), the fall of East Germany--all this and more Franzen deals with, shifting his focus from one character to another, gradually showing us how these characters' stories are not in fact separate.

There is a character named Purity (a young woman who goes mostly by the name of Pip--and, yes, Franzen, well aware that Dickens used that name in Great Expectations, alludes to Dickens and the novel several times; there's some Hamlet stuff, too--a ghost of a father), but it's also the concept of purity that is at issue here. One key character--the Assangey guy--is obsessed with his reputation for purity, and when something happens to threaten that, well, stuff happens. And we are left to wonder about the impossibility of humans possessing such an absolute trait.

Relationships between men and women. Oh, yes. Much of that here. Is fidelity even possible? Can men and women really co-exist in a relationship? For very long? There is more than one answer here, and the words hope and hopeless are relevant. I'll not say more about that.

A few other things:

  • I think I caught a typo in the novel. On p. 391, a character tells how the father of his GF sent him some first editions of books by Bellow, Mencken, and "John Hershey"--surely he meant John Hersey.
  • There's some stuff about tennis--and it made me wonder if this was Franzen's silent salute to his late friend David Foster Wallace, whose novel Infinite Jest deals heavily with the sport?
  • As usual, there are some striking sentences, Just a few here:
    • "He had to kill the man he'd been by killing someone else" (136).
    • "He'd got inside her head with a wooden spoon" (266).
    • "She had as much body fat as a Shaker chair ..." (405).
  • And I'll end with this description of the Bay Area in the fog:
Fog spilled from the heights of San Francisco like the liquid it almost was. On better days it spread across the bay and took over Oakland street by street, a thing you saw coming, a change you watched happening to you, a season on the move. Where it encountered redwoods, the most local of rains fell. Where it found open space, its weightless pale passage seemed both endless and like the end of all things. It was a temporary sadness, the more beautiful for being sad, the more precious for being temporary. It was the slow song in minor that the rock-and-roll sun then chased away (518).

Conclusion: The dude can write.

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