You can tell I'm on break thanks to my sudden spate of posts this week. Don't get bored of me yet, friends--the semester starts next week and I'm sure it'll get much quieter around here soon!
Anyhow, a few last reviews of 2009:Pastoralia by George Saunders:
George Saunders is a sneaky man. Just when you think his stories are nothing but zany scenarios and clever use of voice, the plot turns and they become devastating. There's a lot of wacky humor in this collection, which sometimes sits rather oddly with Saunders's grim vision of American life. All of the characters here are losers in one sense or another, and it often feels like Saunders is mocking them until it suddenly becomes clear that he's actually exposing the traps in which they are all caught. I've read quite a lot of Saunders in The New Yorker
, but this is the first whole collection of his that I've read. I think his stories work better as a collection than they do individually; when I read just one of his stories it's easy to get distracted by the crazy elements, but when read as a group they gain in power.The Sea by John Banville:
Oh, how I wanted to love this book! I wanted this to be the Banville book that I could really embrace, rather than just coldly admire as I admire Kepler
and The Book of Evidence
. Alas, I ended up not even being able to admire it. Don't get me wrong; the prose is gorgeous, with subtly Irish rhythms and long, unfolding sentences:A dream it was that drew me here. In it, I was walking along a country road, that was all. It was in winter, at dusk, or else it was a strange sort of dimly radiant night, the sort of night there is only in dreams, and a wet snow falling. I was determinedly on my way somewhere, going home, it seemed, although I did not know what or where exactly home might be. There was open land to my right, flat and undistinguished with not a house or hovel in sight, and to my left a deep line of darkly louring trees bordering the road. The branches were not bare despite the season, and the thick, almost black leaves drooped in masses, laden with snow that had turned to soft, translucent ice.
Yes, lovely. But somehow both too lovely and not lovely enough. Too lovely in that it becomes obvious that Banville is aware of the beauty of his own writing, and it starts to seem overweening. Not lovely enough in that all the beautiful prose in the world can't disguise the ugliness of the main character or the thinness of the story. And the there is a surprise revelation near the end, but for what? The surprise of it seemed not to add anything to the story, but rather like an attempt to manipulate the reader and not a very successful attempt at that.
Disappointing.A Single Man
: I decided I wanted to see this movie based solely on the fact that its trailer is so gorgeous. (It is
gorgeous: watch it.
) There was much that I liked about the movie: the stunning visuals, Colin Firth's excellent performance, and the fact that it is a mature, intelligent film dealing with emotionally difficult subject matter in a complicated way. The emotional range of the film really is impressive. At moments it is heartbreaking, tender, bleak, trenchant, nerve-wracking, and warm; there is one truly harrowing moment in which the camera focuses squarely on Colin Firth's face as he is told first that his lover has died in a car crash, and then that he is not welcome at the funeral. But then, in its final minutes, this film that had so thoroughly resisted simplicity and easy storytelling suddenly became heavy-handed. The ending did not entirely ruin the movie for me--it is still very much worth seeing--but it wasn't what I was hoping for. I've never read the Christopher Isherwood novel on which it's based, and now I am very curious to do so, just to see whether his ending is the same as the film's.