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What's the Difference Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

It stung him to see that Furness had so little appreciation of his life -- the supposition that he might have been a Communist was not so far-fetched as all that. To be told that we would be ludicrous in any life-role, even an uncongenial one, is an insult to our sense of human possibility.

The plot of The Groves of Academe is almost as confusing and sticky as a real-time college faculty intrigue. (NB: I am not "an academic," but I have taken the minutes for more than one departmental meeting in my day). That's not why I read it twice in a row, though; that just happened. Henry Mulhaney has never been a member of the Communist party, but he might have been for all anyone knows, and anyway he can't see why he shouldn't benefit from Jocelyn College's principled stand against the persecution of Communists just as much as all those people who had the bad taste to actually join the party. In fact, he deserves the college president's protection more than they do. Because he's not actually a commie. But he could have been! Anyway, he ought to keep his job because his wife is dangerously ill -- or could be, as far as anyone knows.

It's persistently funny but (almost?) never laugh-out-loud funny, and the broad-stroke satire is constantly being tugged on -- not exactly "undermined" -- by awkward little physical and psychological details that are painfully intimate, especially the ones about Mulhaney's children and the disheveled state of his house. The Group had a similar quality, though it "feels" like a different kind of book. I have a terrible weakness for lists of objects and other broad-stroke descriptive writing. McCarthy's lists are like candy to me. I like that illusion of world-weary familiarity they create as I'm reading them, even though most of the time I don't actually have a clue about e.g. the social significance in 1952 of most of the listed details re: haircuts and pedagogical theories.

(This book should not be confused with The Graves of Academe, which is a collection of one guy's angry letters about how badly written all his university's interdepartmental memos are).

On every channel they are broadcasting images of the crowds inside Parliament. After the building was occupied, [. . .] the idea emerged, born from the collective nebula from which tales, rumors, and legends spring, that each person would climb the steps, take his or her place at the Assembly rostrum, and propose a solution to a problem facing the country. Since then, every channel on every television station -- public and private, network and cable -- has broadcast nothing else.

A redheaded woman approaches the microphone and says we ought to pay more attention to city parks and gardens. A man in rolled-up sleeves says that the problem of public debt could be solved by printing new bills at the Mint or at the Bank of Portugal or wherever it is they print such things. An unkempt boy draws the audience's attention to the spiritual side of things. A woman on crutches says we should have more children so the Portuguese people don't become extinct.

I got to like The True Actor after a very funny first page and a rocky first few chapters. By "rocky" I just mean I didn't care about the main guy and kept mentally tapping my foot while I waited for the book to amend or make up for it somehow. Americo Abril is a very ordinarily unlikable character - unemployed creative professional, young father who doesn't know his son very well despite spending all day watching him, young married guy whose mistress is a collection of musky adjectives and whose breadwinning wife comically takes her comical job at the Olive Oil Ministry comically seriously.

I always seem to end up liking or not liking characters, even when the book makes it clear that that's not the point. In this case, I was extra interested in the likability of Americo because I'd just read The Groves of Academe, where the main guy is unlikable in a fascinating way instead of a boring one. Sometimes I don't mind "unlikable" characters at all, and sometimes I do. What makes the difference?

Anyway, as the plot surrounds Americo and carries him into art-film dream territory, the book as a whole gets better and the question of Americo's worthiness as a protagonist gets pushed to the back of the room where it belongs. I didn't entirely love it, but I enjoyed reading it. There are some great moments (like when Americo's phone rings just as he's being pushed up to the Assembly microphone to offer his solution to the country's problems) and it ends just about as it should.

What I'm Reading Now

I accidentally ended up re-reading a bunch of the Anne of Green Gables books at once, and I'm predictably full of feelings. I still can't stand Davy and Paul Irving, but there's a lot of great stuff in Anne of Avonlea that I'd forgotten, like the return of Mr. Harrison's wife and the time Anne and Diana put together The Greatest Lunch Ever for their favorite girlhood novelist, only to have her show up on the wrong day with nothing to eat in the house and Anne covered in feathers from changing the bedding. But it turns out all right anyway, thanks to quick thinking and Anne and Diana being unstoppable housekeepers.

Also: I thought I was over my dislike of Gilbert Blythe, but it turns out I am not over it AT ALL; he's worse than I remembered in House of Dreams. Anne tries to sympathize with Leslie's feeling that her life and gifts are being wasted, and Gilbert's all, "Oh, Anne, SOME PEOPLE might say that YOU'RE wasting your life by marrying the man of your choice and living in a rural community like you've always wanted! Aren't you going to reassure me even though I know the answer :D ??" SHUT UP GILBERT not everything is about you and your stupid happiness. >:(

Gilbert aside, though, Anne's House of Dreams is great, even if a huge chunk of what makes it great is "Anne gets confronted with loss and suffering."

I've gone back and forth on Anne of the Island all my life -- first I loved it, then I didn't, now I'm back up to strong liking. I'll never find Phil's cutesyness as funny as I did when I was 10, but I appreciate the last days of Ruby Gillis a lot more.

Other than the Annes, I'm reading a non-fiction book called The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles. It's a collection of conversations with children about their thoughts on religion and spirituality. The author is a lot more into Freud than I'm used to, but the conversations are good.

What I Plan to Read Next

Wise Blood! Probably some other things, too. Witches Abroad as soon as I finish this little stack I'm supposed to be working through.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 21st, 2016 08:06 pm (UTC)
Gilbert was a lunkhead, I DO remember that much!! He needed an ass-whipping, really...

Sep. 21st, 2016 08:14 pm (UTC)
Gilbert would have been a good man, if there had been someone to throw a drink in his face every day of his life.

Honestly, he's not even that bad, in the grand scheme of things. I JUST HATE HIM. >:(

Sep. 21st, 2016 08:51 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you don't mind unlikable characters as long as they're interesting, which seems perfectly reasonable to me. If a character is both unlikable and boring, well, there's no entertainment value there either way! So what's the point of reading about them?

I never liked Davy. I always felt so sorry for poor Dora, who always tries to do everything right and yet everyone prefers her horrible obnoxious brother. So maybe I would have liked him if it weren't for the invidious comparisons with his poor sister? But then mischievous scapegrace boy is a hard character to sell to me most of the time, so maybe not.

All my other Anne-loving friends are all "GILBERT BLYTHE <3 <3 <3," which makes it a bit awkward because the most I've been able to muster for him is "Well he's okay I guess. Could be worse." So I'm glad to meet someone else unenthusiastic about him!
Sep. 21st, 2016 09:12 pm (UTC)
Poor Dora. :(( She tries so hard! And the result of her trying so hard is that Anne and Marilla both conclude that Davy "needs" them more, because why would a well-behaved six-year-old need love and attention? She's so well-behaved! Obviously everything must be fine; just let her coast for a while. And Davy's just one of those characters you can tell the author likes A LOT better than you do, like Neelix on Voyager.

It's gratifying to re-read & find that Dora isn't actually being neglected. But all the little conversations about how much more "lovable" Davy is break my heart. It makes me sad that we never (or seldom? I haven't finished my re-read yet) get a letter from Dora to Anne, though we get more than enough from Davy.

I know, I know, I take bit characters in LMM novels way too seriously. :/

Ugh, Gilbert. He's not as bad as that annoying narrator guy from Kilmeny of the Orchard and that's all I feel like saying for him today. No, that's not fair; there's nothing wrong with him except terminal smugness, but I definitely don't get the love.
Sep. 21st, 2016 09:35 pm (UTC)
Gene Stratton Porter's The Girl of the Limberlost also had a naughty little boy character who the author clearly liked far more than I did. I want to read more about moths and Elnora's difficulties with her bizarre mother! Not about this annoying child! So maybe it's an early twentieth century literature thing.

I like to think that once Dora left Green Gables, she found people who loved and appreciated her as she was, and therefore felt no need to write Anne. Although probably she dutifully sent a Christmas card or two, which Anne barely notices because she always did favor Davy. :(
Sep. 23rd, 2016 08:52 am (UTC)
I never cared much for Davy or Paul Irving either. I could live with Gilbert Blythe in the first book, but not in the rest of them.
Sep. 24th, 2016 02:59 am (UTC)
DAMN IT my browser just crashed and with it my ~1000-word comment on Gilbert. IT'S FOR THE BEST in this best of all possible worlds (as Gilbert says when Anne tries to get him to feel sorry for Leslie).

I am amending my original comment because I feel I'm being too hard on Gilbert. Really, if Anne's happy, I'm happy. That's the important thing!

The next thing I say about Davy and Paul will be positive! I may have to think about it for a while, though.

Edited at 2016-09-24 05:12 am (UTC)
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:48 am (UTC)

How annoying!

I think the problem with Gilbert is that he is a character whose sole existence is to be Anne’s dream man. You never get a sense that he has independent interests. He is a doctor, but there are never any indications to why he has chosen that job. To me it feels like Montgomery needed a man with ideals as Anne has ideals. And as Gilbert never really acts on it, she had to give him a job where ideals is implied. The other choice would have been a priest, and Anne wouldn’t have made a very good wife for a priest. The only other books by Montgomery I have read are the EMily-books, and I find it striking how much her love interests have their own passions, independent of Emily. Teddy would have been an artist no matter whom he married. Dean likes to travel and read and Perry, even if he is never a serious love interest, has his ambition and drive to be something else. And even if he claims it’s all for Emily, he would have had that drive even without her.
Sep. 23rd, 2016 10:31 am (UTC)
I think the only reason I can tolerate Gilbert in the books is that Jonathan Crombie's performance was pretty likable (and Crombie was specifically not basing his Gilbert on the books so that probably went long way).

I re-read a lot of Anne this year too and wow I hate Mrs. Barry a lot more than I remember. She basically only lets Anne play with Diana because she thinks Diana is too bookish. I assume that if Diana was more friendly with Jane/Ruby/Josie she probably would've told Marilla to keep the orphan off their farm. Not to mention it was Mrs. Barry's separation of the friends that led to Anne getting obsessed with Gil. Truly she is the villain of the piece! I kid, I kid.

I always felt Paul could've been an interesting character if he wasn't so perfectly precocious. Davy! Everyone's already said everything that needs to be said about him. Poor Dora was never really appreciated by Anne.

House of Dreams is one of my favorites, but it's the only one of their time in Four Winds that I truly like. Rainbow Valley isn't really about the Blythes and Anne of Ingleside is intolerable. I keep thinking it'd be interesting to write an AU where Anne and Gilbert stayed in the Avonlea area (Carmody maybe?), but then there'd be no Leslie or Cornelia.
Sep. 24th, 2016 02:40 am (UTC)
JOUGETSU! Hi! I haven't gotten to Anne of Green Gables yet (saving it for last because it's the best) but there was a striking moment at the end of Island, when Diana's first child is born, and Diana resolves that his first memory of her will be a sweet one, because her own first memory of her mother is of the latter slapping her face for something or other. :( "Of course I probably deserved it, and she was a good mother," she says.

I didn't remember that line about Diana being too bookish, but I'm looking forward to rediscovering my grudge against Mrs. Barry. Did she keep Diana from going to Queens/continuing with her schooling in the book, or was that just in the TV movie?

I was shocked when I opened up Rainbow Valley this morning and Anne & Gilbert were returning from a trip to Europe! I understand why LMM wouldn't want to write Anne Abroad, but I'm sorry just the same that it doesn't exist. I always complain about the later Annes but if there were seven more I would read them all. One thing I have been enjoying is the way echoes of Anne's orphan past keep turning up and causing trouble. Lying Jenny Penny with her mesmerizing eyes, and smart, difficult Mary Vance out of Hopetown Asylum -- "If I can't tell lies, what's to become of me?"

I don't love Anne and Gilbert as parents - they feel real only when something has gone wrong, like when Jem disappears and everyone is scared. Anne's kids are perfectly good LMM child characters -- I like all of them better than Davy and Paul, for example -- but in relation to their parents they tend to go a little flat imo.

Paul's too sweet and too precocious for me; he never feels genuinely childish and complicated the way Anne and Emily do in their different ways. He's like a mediocre girlhood novelist's ideal of childhood, and very odd to encounter after a book full of Anne, who is definitely idealized as "home children" go but still very real. (Davy is the equally mediocre comic caricature of childhood). Probably I'm being too uncharitable here, so I should make sure to state this is just an opinion and I'm sure there are arguments to be made for both Davy and Paul.

Leslie and Cornelia would definitely be missed. Along with the incredibly sad Joyce chapter, the scenes with Anne and Leslie are some of the best in the series. Anne can always be counted on to crank up the romantic friendship to maximum volume and then break the dial. <3 </3
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:53 am (UTC)
I love Anne of Green Gables. And also Rilla of Ingleside, which of course isn't an Anne-book, not really.
Sep. 24th, 2016 07:38 am (UTC)
Ouch, I forgot that line about Diana's first memory of her mother. I remember as a child being disappointed that Anne didn't stay in Avonlea and her children be besties with Diana's. As an adult I realize that probably would've been pretty boring as Montgomery clearly felt she exhausted the Avonlea story beats and moving Anne away created more drama.

Found the line!

"This is my little girl, Diana," said Mrs. Barry. "Diana, you might take Anne out into the garden and show her your flowers. It will be better for you than straining your eyes over that book. She reads entirely too much—" this to Marilla as the little girls went out—"and I can't prevent her, for her father aids and abets her. She's always poring over a book. I'm glad she has the prospect of a playmate—perhaps it will take her more out-of-doors."

Sullivan casts the blame on Mrs. Barry for Diana joining the Queen's class, but the book just says "Diana Barry did not, as her parents did not intend to send her to Queen's." Considering her earlier denouncing of too much book reading and that Montgomery flat out says she's a small-minded prejudiced woman I can see why Sullivan took that tack.

I get that Mrs. Barry is meant to represent the forces of ignorance in a small community showing that people can be prejudiced and antagonizing without being Gothic villains. Still it's pretty frustrating to have this epic friendship built up, sabotaged, and then sort of put away after book three. On the other hand it is more realistic the way Montgomery wrote it.

Both Rainbow Valley and Ingleside reference their cool trips abroad and I too wish we got to hear about them a bit more even though Montgomery couldn't/wouldn't write about those trips. It's also rather interesting that Anne is a bit alienated from Four Winds society because she and Gilbert are so worldly compared to their neighbors.

I don't love Anne and Gilbert as parents - they feel real only when something has gone wrong, like when Jem disappears and everyone is scared.

YES! On a very critical re-read of Ingleside this year I finally put my finger on why I don't like them as parents: they're too perfect. Anne always understands the children and always says the right thing at the right time. Gilbert is slightly more flawed but it defaults to a very dull Edwardian era middle class father stereotype. Which makes no sense because neither of them grew up in a stable two parent home so wouldn't they naturally make mistakes? Even people who did grow up in a traditional ideal home make parenting mistakes all the time. What makes Marilla and Aunt Elizabeth such great characters is that we see them learn as they struggle to be surrogate parents. Anne and Gilbert don't struggle, they're just Super Awesome with No Effort.

The problem with Anne's brood is not only do they fall flat contrasted with their parents they also are not nearly as interesting as Mary and the Manse Children. Rainbow Valley is only tangentially about the Blythes and Ingleside has some funny anecdotes but never really gels to form a whole. It doesn't help that Montgomery was very tired of the Anne universe by the time she got to the children and it shows on every page. (As an aside I really loved the saga of Aunt Mary Maria because showed everyone as flawed, real people trying to deal with a difficult relative rather than be just Family Circus style twee vignettes). But as you've said the Blythe children are still more interesting than Davy and Paul.

I'm going to be awful and admit that the only way I find Paul interesting is if he grew up to realize he was An Invert. Gasp.

Leslie has to be the best single book character. I mean yeah she's alive in the other books, but they never talk onscreen again which is a shame. I guess because the West sisters became the Tragedy Ladies du jour (and I adore them), but the Blythe children always talk about their visits to the House O'Dreams and we never see them. I have too many feelings about all these characters.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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