It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
TOMORROW: My Book World | Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow
FRIDAY: My Book World | Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow
FRIDAY: My Book World | George C. Edwards's Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America
TOMORROW: My Book World | Fiona Hill's Mr. Putin
Bailey, Blake. A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates. New York: Picador, 2003.
Tragedy is a horrendous thing for any human to endure, and yet we all do endure it to one extent or another: adverse childhood experiences, deaths, career failures, and more. The author of this exhaustive literary biography, Blake Bailey, does not employ the word lightly, neither in the title nor how he uses it throughout the book. Bailey’s subject, novelist Richard Yates, born in 1926, has about as tragic life as one can live, yet Yates uses it to formulate his fiction with a high degree of success, perhaps too well, to listen to some critics, many of whom are put off by his lack of “happy endings” or his “dim view” of humanity.
No matter what, Yates comes by his viewpoint honestly. In short, his parents’ divorce, not to mention he is raised by a mother who probably has a better opinion of herself than her real talents manifest themselves in her life. She believes herself to be an “artist,” and because of her opinion, her two children (Richard and sister Ruth) are always at the bottom of her priorities. On the other hand, she is a highly seductive person, among other things, encouraging her young son to sleep in her bed. On nights that she stays out late or all night, the boy child lies in bed, wondering where she is. And when she comes home and falls in next to him and vomits on his pillow, his rage is stoked in a way that remains with him his entire life.
“. . . he fixed on his round eyes and plump lips as physiognomic signs of weakness; more to the point, he thought they made him look feminine, ‘bubbly,’ and he had a lifelong horror of being perceived as homosexual” (39). Hm, I wonder why, with the mother thing he has going on.
Anyone wanting to get inside the head of one of the greatest American twentieth-century novelists must consider reading this book. It’s that great. My second-hand copy is marked with a “WITHDRAWN” stamp from the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library in Indiana. Guess it wasn’t much of a hit there.
NEXT FRIDAY: Michael Waldman's The Fight to Vote
My Book World
Weinman, Sarah. The Real Lolita: The
Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel
That Scandalized the World. New York:
Weinman takes two narratives—one, the actual kidnapping case of Sally Horner, in 1948, and two, author Vladimir Nabokov’s shaping of his 1950 novel, Lolita—and weaves them into a single, seamless story. About halfway through the Weinman’s book, Sally Horner is rescued by the FBI and returned to her mother. Two years later, Sally dies, at fifteen, in a car accident, and I wonder, In what direction could the author possibly now take this book?
All along, Weinman has woven the saga of how Nabokov writes Lolita with the story of Sally Horner, providing textual proof by way of his notecards and other documents that Nabokov was indeed influenced by Horner’s story. To what degree foments a debate between Nabokov and the literati that Weinman covers extensively. She also develops the idea that Nabokov has long been fascinated by the narrative of pedophiles and the children to whom they are attracted; in Lolita he finally produces the right combination of elements, one of which is the deployment of an unreliable narrator to steer the reader away from what a sinister crime he is actually participating in. Weinman skillfully stitches together these two narratives and provides a long, relaxed denouement tying up all the loose ends: relatives affected by Sally’s premature death, the imprisonment of her captor, a discussion of the abuse of young girls and women, and more.
Because of her unrelenting research and attention paid to detail, Weinman provides a satisfying read combining the genre of true crime with serious literary discussion of Nabokov’s novel. It is one of the few books I’ve read this year that I have not been able to put down once started. It’s that good.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-31 South Carolina
Richard Jespers is a writer living in Lubbock, Texas, USA.
See my profile at Author Central: