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Wednesday Water Under the Bridge

What I've Finished Reading

Mary McCarthy, Birds of America.

Instead of simply knocking and asking what had happened to the owl, as he had planned when reconnoitering the house from across the road, he had paid the price of admission (Adults, $.50) and let himself be conducted through the homestead before he dared pop the question and at the last had nearly chickened out, for fear the woman would think he had been using her for his own stealthy purposes, which were antagonistic to old paneling and original floorboards. Peter, a philosophy minor, was an adept of the Kantian ethic; he had pledged himself never to treat anyone as a means ("The Other is always an End: thy Maxim," said a card he carried in his wallet, with his driving license, vaccination certificate, and memberships in SNCC, CORE, and SANE), and yet because of his shyness, which made his approaches circuitous, he repeatedly found himself doing exactly that [. . . ] When he finally did ask, addressing her on the stoop from an inferior position on the lawn, it was in a casual, preppy voice. "By the way, could you tell me what's become of the Great Horned Owl they used to have over there in the Wild Life Sanctuary?" How could he hope to fight for civil rights in Mississippi when he did not feel he had the right to ask a simple question in "neighborly" New England?

Peter Levi wants to go to Mississippi with the Freedom Riders, but his parents don't think it's a very good idea, so he goes to Paris instead. Would he have overcome his aversion to asking questions if he'd gone to Mississippi? Maybe. Probably not. He gets into a fight over American foreign policy at an expat Thanksgiving, makes a few friends, tries to make sense of a large and confusing set of data, and feels bad about how bad he doesn't feel, among other things. This is not the best McCarthy I have read, but middle-of-the-road Mary McCarthy is still way ahead of your average reading experience.

It's probably typical of McCarthy that so much of the satire has hardly aged a day since 1965: swap out a politician or two and the names of the countries being bombed and you're right at home. The thing that struck me as being most noticeably "of its time" is how hard it is for Peter's aspiring foodie mother to find bean pots and other traditional cooking materials; she would have an easier time now, though she might still have to drive out of town to the nearest Whole Foods. And the draft, I guess, but somehow the food issue stands out more.

What I'm Reading Now

I'm hardly any further in The Count of Monte Cristo than I was last week. I got sidetracked by a bunch of things and then by the arrival of The Most Comfortable Man in London. I think I'm up to about Chapter 49? [A very loose summary:] Dantes is in Paris, being fabulously wealthy and impressing Albert's friends with his mysterious ways. Mercedes recognizes him! It's kind of a nice understated scene - understated in a melodramatic way, at least - and ambiguous! What is Mercedes feeling? What is Dantes going to do? You can practically hear the stressed-out violins trembling away under their twitching throats.

Later, Dantes takes the opportunity to troll Danglars a little, which was a fun couple of chapters, and listens to a tale of vengeance from Bertuccio, which was a confusing one. Apparently, Bertuccio stabbed Villefort and stole his dead baby, but then the baby turned out not to be dead, so he adopted it! The baby grows up to be a world of trouble, though it's strongly suggested that this is not because of "bad blood," but Bertuccio not being able to parent effectively due to feeling guilty about stabbing his son's original father. Will this child -- now grown up and reportedly ruthless - turn back up in some capacity? Probably! Caderousse comes back into the story, in a flashback, but does not acquit himself very well. :( It's not looking good for Caderousse, but I still hope he'll be back for some partial redemption. Also, if I'm not mistaken, Dantes (in disguise as the Abbe) gave Bertuccio a letter of recommendation to take to himself (as the Count of Monte Cristo), which is an excellent way of getting reliable employees if you can manage it.

That's all the Count of Monte Cristo I have today. I'll be caught up to where I should be next week!

What I Plan to Read Next

It's time to hop back on the 99 Novels train! I want to read a few of the books I bought during the summer before I take a bunch out from the library, so what should it be: Anthony Powell or Lawrence Durrell?

I've also got some other books lined up to read once my brain gets a little less scattered: comic books that have been waiting for me for a while, and Sector General, about a multi-species hospital in space.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2016 11:31 am (UTC)
Monte Christo is certainly not lacking in plots...
Nov. 2nd, 2016 11:33 pm (UTC)
You'll never run out of plots! I'm pretty curious as to whether all these CRAZY PLOTS are going to all crescendo together in some kind of massive overture, or whatever you call it, or if they're just going to keep happening one after the other, or what.
Nov. 2nd, 2016 12:51 pm (UTC)
Yay, we're at about the same place in Monte Cristo again!

And aw, Caderrouse. You had the chance to redeem yourself and live a good life and instead you and your wife went all MacBeth on the poor diamond dealer. I guess that's about what's to be expected of a man who sat idly by and let Dantes go to prison for fourteen years, though.

Yes, Dantes the abbe gives Bertuccio a letter of recommendation to give to Dantes the count. Oh Dantes! Someday someone is going to catch him out at his multiple identities game (well, I guess Mercedes already has really) - actually, Dantes would probably enjoy the challenge of that. A worthy opponent! Mostly he seems to run rings around people without much effort, and I'm sure he gets a bit bored of it sometimes.

I totally feel for Peter Levi in that excerpt. Taking a long circuitous route to ask a question that is not actually very probing or difficult is exactly the sort of thing I would do. Also I love that he has an aspiring foodie mother searching for bean pots and so forth in 1965. Foodie culture has deeper roots than I suspected!
Nov. 2nd, 2016 11:48 pm (UTC)
CADEROUSSE. I believed in you! :( (I still believe in you, but in a sadder, more hopeless way). You could have sat idly by and COLLECTED YOUR GIANT PAYDAY like a normal person. :( Oh, well, it'll just make the eventual redemption even more satisfying! Unless this isn't that kind of book. I'm afraid this might not be that kind of book. :(

AHAHA I am so glad that I wasn't wrong about the letter of recommendation. WHAT IS MERCEDES GOING TO DO? this situation is a ticking time bomb strapped to a pinata of drama.

Peter and his mother are trying to be "authentic" "traditional" "locals" at the same time that the actual locals are installing dishwashers and discovering the joy of the TV dinner. It's a Tale as Old as Time (or at least as old as L. M. Montgomery)
Nov. 2nd, 2016 11:52 pm (UTC)
pinata of drama

Truer words have never been spoken about The Count of Monte Cristo!
Nov. 2nd, 2016 01:26 pm (UTC)
LOL, poor Peter. It is a sad trial. I probably wouldn't even have worked up the courage to actually ask anyway.

Dantes's multiple identities and how they interact with each other is never not entertaining. Again, I CAN SAY NO MORE.

I have never read Anthony POwell or Lawrence Durrell, so I am no use there. Toss a coin?
Nov. 2nd, 2016 11:37 pm (UTC)
Powell is intentionally funny, Durrell is unintentionally funny! Well, there are more differences than that. I'll probably start with Powell because it's a faster read; Durrell will be good for when I go out of town later.

Peter's hapless anxious liberal overthinking of everything is a very real phenomenon with which I am intimately familiar. Mary McCarthy has my number (she has several of my numbers).
Nov. 2nd, 2016 09:15 pm (UTC)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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