Be patient and tough . . .

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Just this minute finished reading Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. That was, without question, the quickest I've read a book in quite some time.

I liked it very much. For some reason, the narrator's voice bothered me a lot, but I think that's only because his obsession with language and sentence structure hits a bit too close to home, and I was wondering the whole time why Simon didn't have a voice more like James's, since I certainly do. But I think I'm ashamed of it! That's probably why I gave up copyediting.

Anyway, I am relieved that the spirit of Holden Caulfield is alive, despite the (waning?) current fashion of not liking The Catcher in the Rye.

Ha. James's grandmother's favorite drink is rye. Too, too rich.


9 Responses to “Be patient and tough . . .”
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David Ostow said...

It does seem that liking Catcher in the Rye has become unfashionable. I remember Micol lent me a book called "King Dork" in which the narrator talks about how much he (she? I don't even remember) disliked the book or rather didn't care for the way a whole generation of high school English teachers cherished the book and held onto it like a last vestige of their long-gone youth.

Truthfully the book never really spoke to me. As a teenager with all the standard emotional baggage, I definitely recognized a lot of myself in Holden. But the book left me feeling alienated (perhaps the intended effect). Partly because my memory of the book is that there's nothing really in the way of redemption for Holden in the end. At least outwardly speaking. Secondly, as much as I could relate to him emotionally, his world, his New York were so different than mine. Reading the book was like experiencing nostalgia for something you don't even remember. Hard to describe.

I had a similar problem with "Someday". I'd even say that I connected to it less than I did to "Catcher". Here is a contemporary teenager, living in a New York I somewhat recognize from the outside but the dynamic between him and his family was something I couldn't quite grasp. I think I am also oversensitive to setting. Just like my not being able to crack into Holden's New York, I recognized, the stifling streets of Chelsea in the summer, the disheartening affect of all that industrial brick around you and not a tree in sight and the even more unsettling sensation of walking into the overly-air conditioned galleries within, many of which with no announcement of their existence at street level as if to say "if you're not in on this secret, best to turn back."

Oy, I'm getting away from the book though aren't I? Early morning ramblings.

Why do you think it is that people turn away from icons of counterculture like "Catcher" after they've been championed by so many for so long? Is their a simple human need to challenge what has been established? Or it is that - in its long-standing success - "Catcher" seems to defy its own meaning? If seemingly everyone can relate to this young man's struggle for meaning in his life, what does that mean about your own personal relationship to the book? If we are all Holden Caulfields, who or what is it exactly that we feel alienated from?

January 23, 2009 at 7:01 AM
Steve said...

I have to say, I think there is a tendency--especially among those who might otherwise find something valuable in Catcher--to scoff that which has become a firm part of the canon, the must-read list. Which is fine. A backlash will follow, I expect. It's bound too.

As far as HC's redemption, no, there is none, unless one considers waking up to the cruel realities of the world redemption, which I don't suppose one can. But I think that's one of the things that I favor about Catcher.

I don't think you'll very much like my YA MS, David. Talk about ending on a no-redemption sucker punch. Yikes.

January 23, 2009 at 7:12 PM
David Ostow said...

Oh I wouldn't worry about that Steve. You're talking to a long-time veteran of the Ostow psychoanalytic society. If I respond strongly to a work of art, either in a positive or a negative way, I will spend the rest of the month dissecting my emotions, figuring it out what it was. Catcher in the Rye was a book I had a very visceral reaction to. It made more acute my own adolescent depression which was doing fine on its own believe me. Maybe because it made me so uncomfortable I shut it out. But I suppose that could only speak to its power.

I am not a 'feel good movie of the year' kind of guy and redemption is by no means a key ingredient for a 5 star review in my book. I will say, however, that I watched Juno the other day fully expecting to hate it. But after so many post-American Beauty cookie cutter indie films that all seem to speak in unison to nothing other than the strange emptiness of life in the post modern world, Juno - with its more recognizable and tender presentation of family dysfunction and its ultimate message of human goodness was such a refreshing change. Was the movie stylistically derivative of Wes Anderson? In the words of our almost Vice President 'you betcha'.
Did the main character speak with a voice that any resemblance to even the sassiest of high school students? Nope. But I've always thought of myself as a cynic by nature and it's nice to know how a warm but not sappy- a-la-Ron-Howard flick can soothe the soul.

That said, I will not judge your book before it comes out. And to go back to what I said above, part of the reason I've always been so eager to leave Holden Caulfield behind is that his world, or his view of it haunted me. And there are worse things I can think of that today's adolescents being put face to face with the haunting power of literature.

I look forward to reading your book!

January 26, 2009 at 6:06 AM
Micol Ostow said...

Now I'm so eager to see Steve's book!
I loved Catcher in the Rye for a lot of the same immature reasons that others do--ooh, he cursed! ooh, he has sexual impulses!--but as a more widely-read adult, it falls flat. I think it's the same thing that happened to me when I finally saw "Alien." I had watched to many postmodern slashers with empowered women that to go back to the original icon felt watered-down. You have to remind yourself that it is the watershed moment you're clocking in for, and that everything that comes after has, naturally, evolved.

LOVED "Someday this Pain," btw...voice was so stylish. I think you're meant not to connect, per se, with the protagonist, but I still couldn't put it down.

January 26, 2009 at 10:55 AM
Steve said...

See, I still love Catcher as an adult, though probably not quite as viscerally as I did as a lad. I mean, I ate it UP in a big way. I think I was 12 or 13 when I read it for the first time, and I've read it nearly once a year since then. I see something new in it now, from what I saw back then, obv; these days, I kind of shake my head slowly and say, "Oh, Holden," but I still think of it as the first pure YA novel, and I think it captured the alienation as well or better than anything since.

Someday This Pain was completely unputdownable.

Anyway, I'll tell AK that the Ostows at least are dying to read my YA. :)

January 26, 2009 at 11:06 AM
David Ostow said...

To me unputdownable = Hunger Games which I think kind of says a lot about me. I'm not interested in adolescent pain and self-discovery. I'm interested in people mortally wounding one another.

To stray even farther from Catcher I just wanted to remark on M's Alien comment. I don't have an academic knowledge of the slasher genre and while I've heard Alien refered to as a horror movie I never gave much thought to that. Personally I would have never thought to group it with the likes of Halloween etc but it's true that Sigourney Weaver is the paradigm of empowered woman in stressful situation. I'd be curious to know in what way her story seems watered down compared to those of subsequent slashers, mashers and slayers.

This all speaks to how great a movie it is and how many ways it can be approached from and enjoyed. To me it was all about atmosphere: the light, the angles, everything working together to form a picture of a claustrophobic overly-technologized (probably not a real word) environment. And if the slasher films that came afterwards owe somthing to that movie it certainly isn't a sense of atomosphere (not to say they don't have their own atmosphere but nothing beats Ridley Scott in Alien and Blade Runner).

Oh yeah, wasn't this Steve's blog?

January 28, 2009 at 8:56 AM
Micol Ostow said...

Okay, to be clear, ALIEN is not a "slasher" the most traditional sense of the word--slasher is what came after and grew out of Alien. Like you say, that movie is much more atmospheric, almost in the vein of something like Kubrick. But the point was that it came about at a transitional period both thematically and cinematographically and was in itself v. responsible for the turning point. Ripley is way more capable than Elm Street's Nancy for a lot of reasons, but she was the prototype.
But this has happened to me quite a bit while going back to old classics, like Evil Dead, which was absolutely iconic, but less "scary" to me after having seen more recent low-budget, "verite-style" installments like "Blair Witch." If you're raised on the 2.0 model then it can be harder to appreciate how groundbreaking the beta version actually was.

January 28, 2009 at 1:09 PM
Micol Ostow said...

And of course, HUNGER GAMES was an entirely different type of "readability" where action and tension drives the story much more than voice.

January 28, 2009 at 1:10 PM
Micol Ostow said...

(That's the MFA talking.)

January 28, 2009 at 1:10 PM