Monday, April 17, 2006

Lack of intimacy = death?

Hopefully I'm not too late to post my thoughts on "Memories/Whores." I apologize for the delay, but without going into detail, I've been very preoccupied over the past few weeks. Things are settling in and calming down so I should have more time to devote to this although I'll try not to make promises, I'll just do my best!

As I was reading this, the thing that kept crossing my mind was that the main character had a serious fear and avoidance of intimacy. Without intimacy in a relationship, what is there? The main character of the book is a obsessed with death, yet it seems that he never truly lived.

The main character's avoidance of of intimacy could be obviously seen by the fact that after 90 years, he had never had a mutual or loving relationship with a woman. He either had to pay for women or take them by force. Also, the fact that he fell in love with a 14 y/o that he never spoke to and knew nothing about except that she sewed buttons in a factory is consistent with this observation. She also had her back turned to him whenever they were together and the thing he knew most intimately about her were her feet. He stated that he preferred her asleep and there were several times that he mentions how he didn't want to know about her real/personal life. Any time he came close to finding out anything real about her, like when he visited the button factory or went to the hospital to see if it was her that was in that bike accident, he became more tormented and less attracted to her.

I agree with all of you that he was a very annoying character esp because of his sexist attitude toward women, although I developed sympathy for him when I found out towards the end of the book that he had been sexually assaulted as a young boy. He didn't mention his parents much, except when recalling the death of his mother. His mother was portrayed as overly materialistic to the point that she was buying expensive things behind her husband's back and throughout the course of the book he was continously selling those possessions in order to hold onto what he thought was true love for Delgadina. He briefly mentioned his father in conjunction with the assualt that took place while his father involved in an "interminable" meeting behind closed doors - a metaphor that perhaps signifies his father's lack of availability for him when he may have needed him most as a formidable adolescent.

The thing with the cat that struck me was that he was always referring back to the "manual" which was a humorous indication of his lack of trust in his ability to be intuitive or to feel or to care for another living being - another area where he avoided intimacy even in the raising of an animal.

Something else that struck me that Rosa Cabarcas said at the end of the book that suggests that this book about a fear of intimacy was when she says wisely: "Don't let yourself die without the wonder of fucking with love." Since the book is left somewhat open-ended and he survives past his 90th birthday, I guess we will never know if he will ever experience the joy of being truly intimate and open with someone else. His agreement with Rosa Carbacas to will everything to Delgadina indicates that he unfortunately missed that opportunity and that he will live in an illusory world until the very end.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Our Second Book

No need to stop discussing our first, but if you're craving something new on your nightstand then it's time to start reading our second book:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahirir

Here's Amanzon's description:
Jhumpa Lahiri's debut story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, took the literary world by storm when it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Fans who flocked to her stories will be captivated by her best-selling first novel, now in paperback for the first time. The Namesake is a finely wrought, deeply moving family drama that illuminates this acclaimed author's signature themes: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the tangled ties between generations.

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of an arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Ashoke does his best to adapt while his wife pines for home. When their son, Gogol, is born, the task of naming him betrays their hope of respecting old ways in a new world. And we watch as Gogol stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

With empathy and penetrating insight, Lahiri explores the expectations bestowed on us by our parents and the means by which we come to define who we are.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

So Many Great Insights & Observations

Wow, there have been so many great insights and observations. I hope it’s okay to comment on all at once here.

As I said before, I don’t consider this an outstanding book, and yet it contains so many poignant phrases and lends itself to such interesting interpretations. Your posts have captivated me. Some of the phrases, such as the ones Erin pointed out about aging and the ones Ann mentioned about memory, could form discussion topics in and of themselves. Clearly there is a wealth of beauty and creativity contained in this little book. Here are few things that come to mind based on your posts.

Like Erin, I considered the story flat and its characters undeveloped. But like Jen I considered that primarily due to the narrator's personality. Why would he chose to tell his tale so sparsely? Perhaps as Jen suggests, he is simply relating to us to the same degree to which he has known and loved people in the past. Superficially, with no depth. He's shown he's not capable of anything deeper. Which gets back to my original problem of him not being a sympathetic character.

Is the narrator Garcia Marquez to some extent? Definitely yes. There are just too many similarities. Beyond the obvious – both aging, arrogant Columbian writers and journalists with a kaleidoscope of loves behind them – there is the similarity of philosophy as Ann and Jen pointed out. And then there’s AMQ’s suggestion that each previous love represents one of Gabo’s writings. Interesting, in that both Gabo’s works and the narrator’s loves can be used to chronicle their individual lives. But Gabo’s writings are his hard won accomplishments and my guess is that he holds his works in much higher esteem than this narrator does his conquests. The narrator writes of his relations – the term conquests isn’t even appropriate – as if they occurred inevitably and unavoidably and not as the results of his efforts.

For those like me who read the story unabashedly literally, I think we’re missing out. Once I read Ann’s suggestion that the cat represents death, it made perfect sense. From its first mention in the story, the cat bothered me – I couldn’t discern a reason to include it. Our interesting story was disrupted by side trips into confusion and consternation over this cat, segues that seemed to serve no purpose. But the idea that the cat represents death, and the fact that it left for a while (or was postponed) and then returned at the end seems fitting.

You guys have each brought up such interesting thoughts and ideas. It never occurred to me to imagine the story from Delgadina’s point of view or to consider the parental nature of the relationship Rosa and the main character share toward Delgadina. I would like to know more about Rosa and about the paper’s editor and about many of the others that the narrator mentions so briefly including Delgadina’s parents. Too bad the narrator couldn't relate this for us; too bad he couldn't experience it for himself. (Oh no, was I just sympathetic?) So for a book that I didn’t give a very favorable review, it sure has given me many things to think about and much pleasure along the way.


I have finally been shamed into posting my "book report". Since I have never been in a book club before I learned that I should read with a pencil in hand in order to highlight things I wanted to remember to comment on. I do agree with most of you other WW, the language and the visual discriptions in the book were exquisite, ( as we would expect from this author) , but the story was rather weak, and the charactors were not developed at all. I also had a hard time separating the protagonist from the author...after all he said he had never been anything but a writer...and he was old...and Columbian....I found my self very irritated by the main charactor, because he was completely self absorbed. I wasnt disturbed at all by his wanting of a fourteen year old whore, but I was disturbed by his raping the housekeeper. Then as an arrogant male turning that into something that she was into.
What resonated for me in this book, more than anything (aside from the beauty of the prose) was that it was a reflection on aging. Some of the quotes that I love about this are "The truth is that the first changes are so slow they pass almost unnoticed, and you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside." and "I was shaken by the stunning revelation that I was listening to the last concert fate would afford me before I died. I did not feel sorrow or fear but an overwhelming emotion at having lived long enough to experience it." and "I was transfixed by the agreeable idea that life was not something that passes by like Heraclitus' every changing river but a unique opportunity to turn over on the grill and keep broiling on the other side for another ninety years"...I loved that one!
Now, if I am allowed to digress I will say that the concert quote really affected me because I was recently at a gig of Peter Sprague's, a friend who is a great guitarist, I was sitting there with my favorite boys, Rod, my husband and Jack my nephew and I just became overwhelmed with emotion and started crying quietly right there in the bar...yeah, I'd had a couple beers, but jeez. Earlier that afternoon Jack told me he had (finally) picked a project to work on for his Phd in physics and it had to do with two dimentional plasma...magnetic fields, and such. I told him that I had seen the aurora borealis before with my girlfriend Robbie Lyn. So that night at the bar listening to Brazilian Jazz I was thinking of the aurora borealis, how Robbie was now dead, how I had my best boys with me, how Peter was playing this beatifull music. I was struck by the transient nature of things, and the tears just started to flow. So I appreciated that part of the book that brought that moment back to me.
So thanks for the pick, Jen. Any one who hasnt yet read One Hundred Years of Solitude...well you best get started, cause it's a big one, but it has to be one of the best novels of our time, and Garcia Marquez one of the best authors. I am looking forward to reading the other memoir book that was mentioned

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

There were a few things...

... that I could really stand to hash out - better over coffee and desert, but this will work ( I just had a couple of chocolate cookies... that counts, right?) I keep meaning to post, then I think I'll wait until I can go find the book again and make more precise references... but at the rate I'm going that will never happen, so here goes...
The thing with the cat and the girl in the house during the storm really reminded me of "Aura" by Carlos Fuentes, where the girl and the old lady and this bunny are all the same person. I keep wondering if the cat is supposed to represent something. Is it the narrator? Is it death (the way it was always lurking about the house, stinking up the place...)
I was also wondering about his remark that if you can forget real events ever happened, could you remember events that never happened. I thought that maybe this was how he and the girl could fall in love, all part of his "magical realism". It would be interesting to see the story from Delgadina's point of view - I mean, I suppose that I could see how he would fall in love with her by staying awake and watching her all night, but all she did was sleep in his presence (much like me in my high school geometry teacher's class, but there was not much enlightenment obtained by either party).
Like everyone else, I love his language. It did make me want to go find a spanish version - in some parts of the prose you could just hear the musicality of how the spanish must sound through the translation ( I can't remember the exact sentence, but there was one about "minutes"...) when I get a chance I'll try and find the book again.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Ooh this is so much fun...

So, I'm with y'all when you say it's not as rich in terms of character, plot and local color as the novels he's most famous for like Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. But I liked it for other reasons. It's still very much one of his novellas in terms of turns of phrase (I think we've all found one or two in particular that are 100 % Garcia Marquez). Though the characters are somewhat incomplete, I attribute that vagueness to the ineptitude of the narrator and his lack of practice in cultivating a "real" relationship with another person. I found the relationships intriguing for the fact that the narrator seems so blind to what they really are. For instance, at the book's end, Rosa is really more the narrator's wife and the two of them parents (albeit of a somewhat incestuous type) to Delgadina as they will the remains of their estates to her in the form of their "old person's bet" (114). They are both in love with what holes in their lives the girl fills up for them. It's all very self-centered love, even when the narrator's sure it's not, but he is a ninety year old bachelor afterall. As for Delgadina, "In the end, it's impossible not to become what others believe you are" (96).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Interesting But Not Compelling

I enjoyed the story; I reveled in Gabo’s colorful language and descriptions, fanciful words and unique turns of phrase. But in the end I was let down by our 90 year old narrator. I did find him intriguing, and I was curious to learn the story of his life. But he never let me feel what it was like to be him; I could never sympathize with him; he never transported me to his time or land or actually let me know any of the people he described.

Was that by design? Probably, but Gabo’s works are usually so rich in description and context. Why was this one different? Moving beyond the literal interpretation of the book to AMQ’s idea of each lover representing one of the author’s works, certainly makes the book more interesting. (I know most authors say their works are not autobiographical, but how can they not be, at least in some sense, since their own personal experiences are what shape their perceptions of the world and their view of the people they conjure up to write about?)

On its own, without the abundance of the context found in Gabo’s other works, I found this book interesting but not compelling.

...the fluidity of a song ...

Anne Marie gave me a push to put up my comments (I do need a kick sometimes). So here goes: I'd not heard of Gabo before and I wonder whether or not it would have helped me to know more about the author & his life prior to reading this book, only because I found it slightly disturbing that a 90 year old man would want a night of passion with an adolescent virgin. Maybe here in the UK we've been overwhelmed with images of child sex scandals and a recent case involving a British celebrity has brought the topic to the front of people's minds.
My favourite character was probably Rosa Cabarcas she had some wonderful one-liners that could be so cutting and I liked the fact she would not suffer fools. Here a couple of my favourites; "Morality, too, is a question of time, she would say with a malevolent smile, you'll see" and "I'm serious, she said, it's even helped to revive your dead horse's face a little".
It was quite sad to think that he did not experience, what he considered, to be true love until he turned 90. Preferring to pay for sexual encounters, than taking the time and effort to establish a fruitful relationship. The reasons why he chose not to do this were not apparent in the story and the why intrigued me more than the consequences of that decision. I felt that there was more depth to be told, and that you had only just scratched the surface.
However, that aside, I thought it was beautifully written, he has a very descriptive style of writing and I could just imagine myself in the top half of the house with all the blinds shut in the middle of the day trying to escape the heat. I liked his descriptions of people, his editor for example; "He was wearing a sports jacket with a live orchid in the lapel, and each article of clothing suited him as if it were part of his natural being, yet nothing was made for the climate of the street but only for the springtime of his offices", I can shut my eyes and see this person perfectly. This particular observation of Delgadina sleeping is just beautiful; "Blood circulated through her veins with the fluidity of a song that branched off into the most hidden areas of her body and returned to her heart, purified by love". Come to think of it they are almost poetic and worthy of song.
I did enjoy reading this book, and enjoyed writing my thoughts even more - thanks for listening :-)