Arquivo da categoria: norte-americana

APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA: An Appointment nobody should miss

Rarely does a writer debut with such a grace and so close to the perfect as happened to John O’Hara and his “Appointment in Samarra”. Many authors are dazzled with the possibilities and open many doors that they are not able to either enter or close. O’Hara is different. He is assured of what he wants of his characters and his prose, therefore his writing reads like an experienced writer who leaves readers breathless.

“Appointment in Samarra” begins with an epigraph from Somerset Maugham. And the narrative follows Julian English, a WASP who is atop the social leader in Gibbsville, PA. At a Christmas party he throws a drink in the face of an important Catholic businessman and this is just the beginning of his downward spiral.

While Mr English is going down, another characters are going up. It is very interesting the parallels the writer traces in his narrative showing how one’s decadence is another’s ascendance. Luther Fliegler’s life is the counterpoint to English’s.

O’Hara’s dialogue have an important part in his prose. His words are sharp and not a single one is useless. The use of colloquial language only enhances that. His characters’ lines are complemented by detailed descriptions that favor to create the whole scene.

Many compare O’Hara to other writers from the same period like Fitzgerald, it turns out that O’Hara is not that famous- what is a shame. Because, like Fran Leibowitz said, he is “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.” O’Hara’s prose has much more depth and less romantic characters that Fitzgerald. Moreover he reads more smoothly and he talks more candid about issues like decadence and sex. In Fitzgerald’s world the prose is dreamy. Nothing seems to be very real. On the other hand, O’Hara is very down-to-earth.

“Appointment in Samarra” is a book that is very likely to please readers who like complex narratives written with an assured hand. The Vintage edition brings a very helpful introduction written by John Updike, that in the end illuminate many points.


LIGHT YEARS: Beneath the shiny surface

Nothing is perfect. A marriage that seems to be unshakable may be just hiding dark cracks beneath a beautifully polished surface. That is one of the things one can learn from James Salter’s classic novel “Light Years”. Originally published in 1975, the book has become a fine example about family dynamics and failed expectations.

Nedra and Vidri form an untouchable couple, parents to two also perfect girls, the four of them lead a dreaming life until reality becomes stronger than appearances. Neither him, nor her is happy person, and the liaison is just kept because it is easier to be together than apart. That is what it seems. They have strong bounds – mostly because of their children. In a tender scene, we see them producing a book about an ell for the children. Nedra thinks the children book that exist are no good. Mother and father are really into completing the task. This is a familiar moment that becomes a remembrance in the far lost past.

As the narratives of “Light Years” moves on, Salter deconstruct the supposed perfect marriage into a group of people falling apart. The parents are so absorbed in their failed relationship that they hardly notice their kids are also a mess – self-destruction runs in the family.

Salter’s language is poetic however direct. The narrative is told in a fractured way, with jump cuts from a time to time. These devices make “Light Years” a sophisticated reading experience. But the best in the novel, the writer’s wise perception of the American marriage. This is a beautiful novel that has an interesting dialogue with Richard Yeats’ “Revolutionary Road“.


Once upon a time there was a Brooklyn middle-aged couple whose marital life was that great, but they could handle that. But on a weekend everything happened. The husband was dumped by his business partner, husband and wife bring up all the past resentment and, on the top of that, she is bitten by a stray cat. This is just the beginning.

The bite is the starter – or the materialization – of a bigger crisis. The time is the late 1960s when the world was changing very fast, but the Bentwoods weren’t ready for that apparently. They are swallowed up by the new world where their way of life seems to have no place anymore.

Published in the 1970s, “Desperate Characters” is a short novel with pathos and comic moments. In a few pages Fox is able to capture a moment that influences both historical and personal levels. There is a strong narrative populated by complex characters. Everything is very subtle and with nuance.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY: Much before the loss of the innocence

Jay McInerney’s funny and smart debut “Bright Lights, Big City” was published about 25 years ago. The current Vintage Contemporary edition features in its cover a drawing of a men entering the Odeon and the Twin Towers in the background – as if we all needed to remember this was a book written much before the loss of the innocence.

The set is New York in the middle 1980s, when AIDS wasn’t the issue and the city fuelled with cocaine and neon. That decade always seem to be something lost in time. And literature and cinema handles it this way. “Bight Lights, Big City” is sort of a lighter and smarter cousin of “American Psycho”, which handles the same generation. But McInerney’s prose is much well handed and his narrative more effective than Breat Easton Ellis’. The novel is entirely written in the second person, and it feels like `you’ is just one more character.

Rarely did a writer capture the 1980s zeitgeist as McInerney. We see his nameless protagonist frantically crossing the city after drugs, women or something he lost in his life and doesn’t know. The plot unfolds in a New York minute. The writer has the ear for capturing vivid and believable dialogues, while creating interesting characters.

However fun it is to read “Bright Lights, Big City”, it is impossible not to notice that it is above all a sad story. The main character is only going through the motions, just the course life takes. He never takes the plunge to change his destiny. Could he if he tried? Maybe so. We’ll never know. But what we do know is that McInerney has written a novel that will last for ages. When people in the future wonders how the 1980s was like

THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS: Where the suburban heart is

American cinema and literature have glimpsed close at lives in the suburbs with mixed results – some good (“Little Children”, both movie and novel; Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral”, Raymond Carver’s and John Cheever’s stories, among others) and some not so (“American Beauty”). What most of the works focused on suburbia share is the sarcastic tone – rarely a tender look. It is not A. M. Homes’ crafted collection of short stories “The Safety of Objects” that will change it – and that come as a blessing.

Published in the early 1990s, these stories seem to look to a world and a time far, far away. That was when either computer or cell phones were common equipments in everybody’s lives, and there was some innocence that seemed to be lost in the turn of the century. But she is also able to capture the changing of times. One of her characters dreams of ‘a different kind of life, the kind he’d read about in stories of men outdoors, fishing trips and cabins in the woods’.

In “The Safety of Objects”, Homes is more interested in the bizarre than in the peculiar. But the form how she portrays it never turn her characters into freaks. Here we have a fat girl called Chunky ‘in part after the candy bar’; a boy who dates his little sister’s Barbie doll; a couple who behaves like children when her kids are away; and a kidnapped boy who fails his kidnapper expectations.

The writer’s approach is to find the most human side of each of her characters meaning demystifying their possible freakiness. The boy dating the Barbie doll is ‘practicing for the future’, for instance. This story, called “A Real Doll”, by the way, has already become a classic. Another strange person, so to speak, who looks very realistic in Homes’ pages Jim Train, the title character of a story, whose behavior is so bizarre that completely convincing.

The characters who people “The Safety of Objects” are people unsatisfied with their lives who has neither the chance nor the energy to change their present – they are sort of depressed or, at least, bipolar who can’t move on, who is too deep in their nothingness to move over. Take Frank, the protagonist of “The Bullet Catcher”, for instance, his goings to the mall becomes his biggest pleasure, and when his neighbors enters a competition this is one of the most exciting things in his life.

Homes’ writing is sort a combination of Raymond Carver’s sharp look at suburban life with Mary Gaitskill’s taste for strangeness. However, in “The Safety of Objects”, the writer is able to develop her own style which blends fun with a detailed account of dead-end lives. Moreover, she must be one of the best opening-sentences writer ever. “Elaine takes the boys to Florida and drops them off like they’re dry cleaning”. “I’m hiding in the linen closet writing letter to myself”. “If something horrible happens it won’t be my fault”. And the best one: “I’m dating Barbie” – only four words that express so much about a character.

Chekhov is also an important reference when it comes to “The Safety of Objects”. Homes is not only interested in the daily unglamorous lives of suburbia, but she also knows that when you show a gun in the first act, it will have to be fired until the third one.

As one character puts, he has ‘no desire to be beautiful or good. Somehow I suspect because it did not come naturally, I longed to be bad’. Maybe this how Homes expects her writings to be – not bad as in badly written, but bad as in a discomforting form, in a way that is disturbing as something that makes you think, question the way we live – and this is her best accomplishment.

MARCH: Mr. & Mrs. March

Geraldine Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize Award winner “March” has a clever starting. She tells the story that isn’t in the beloved classic “Little Women”; we follow the lives of Mr. March and his wife Mrs. March, known Marmee. Most of the novel deals with the events he facew while he is away in the Civil War.

The little women from Luisa May Alcott’s famous novel hardly make an appearance here. They are briefly mentioned from time to time, but the main character is indeed Mr. March. Flashbacks exploit his early life, when he was already an abolitionist and had problems when was teaching a slave child. We also learn how he met and fell in love with Marmee, and all he had to face when he joined the army.

The second part of the book is mostly narrated by Marmee, this is the period when she has to leave her home and go to the hospital where he is between life and death. For her disappointment, Mrs. March we will discover that her husband has secrets from the past, and she’ll have to come to terms with them if she wants to keep a happy marriage.

Mr. and Mrs. March are two complementary forces. As one character wisely describes, `he lives for the ideas’ and she is the one `left to deal with the practical matters of the life’. In other words he is the one that spends his time dreaming, while his wife is the one worried with material things that keep the family alive and together, like money and food. In this sense, the writer gives us two faces of the same coin of the marriage.

Brooks’s narrative is slow and less exhilarating the Alcott’s, but it is not boring, it requires patience and it is better if the reader is familiar with the novel “Little Women”. The writer has succeeded most of the time in a difficult task that not many contemporary writers do. Since she has two narrators it is vital that they have different voices. And here they do most of the time.

Based on Alcott’s own family, Brooks has created an interesting novel that will certainly appeal fans of “Little Women”. The events and personalities she created to Mr. and Mrs. March make sense to how they brought their children up. This later prequel may not exist in an universe without the other novel, but it is a great complementary read.

Publicado na em 01/05/06

JESUS’ SON – STORIES: Children of loneness

In Denis Johnson’s stunning collection of short stories “Jesus’ Son”, there is an image that stays with you most of the time. This is the picture of loneness and desolation. In one of the best tales, called “Emergency”, the main character whose name goes by FH and a friend drive through the country. They eventually find a drive-in. But the weather is awful and there is no one in there – even though there is a movie being played. Johnson’s description of this place is the combination of beauty and sadness.

Since the writer has a natural ability to construct both metaphors and harrowing images the scene is depressive and, at the same time, powerful, uplifting. “Famous movie stars rode bicycles beside a river, laughing out their gigantic, lovely mouths. If anybody had come to see this show, they’d left when the weather started. Not one car remained, not even a broken-down on from last week, or one left here because it was out if gas. In a couple of minutes, in the middle of a whirling square dance, the screen turned black, the cinematic summer ended, the snow went dark, there was nothing but my breath’.

But before this, while FH was riding around this deserted part of the world, he though he saw angels – had a vision. This was just Johnson’s build up for something stronger, a primal screen for the ending of loneness. The narrator is never still, he is always in motion, and no matter where he goes, he is always surrounded by depressed and depressive souls.

The collection title comes from a Lou Reed’s song called “Heroin”. Addiction is part of the narrator’s life – an important part, it brings people close and tear them apart. While trying to recover – without putting much thought on it – readers have a glimpse of a possibility of a better life, of something less sad and depressive. It is a drop of hope in a nightmare ocean of sadness.