Review of “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Standard

20140611-132043-48043679.jpg

It is difficult to write about my experience with Mrs. Dalloway. I loved the novel. I found it overwhelming, intoxicating. It is one of the most difficult yet rewarding reading experiences that I have had this year. I loved everything about it. I loved how Woolf’s intelligence and understanding of human nature bled through the pages. I loved the characters, and I loved learning about character’s through Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness technique. This novel is a study of character (and character development), and is an exploration of the aftermath of WWI on British culture. Although the war is not discussed in detail, it is evident that all characters (not just Septimus) are suffering from the horrors of WWI. By now, I have read both Mrs. Dalloway and The Waves, and I prefer Mrs. Dalloway. I think that The Waves is a true literary breakthrough/innovation, but there is something about Mrs. Dalloway that makes me want to call it her masterpiece. This is a book I will revisit over and over again.

Review of “Long Day’s Journey into Night” by Eugene O’Neill

Standard

Image

 

I did not like this play. I’m not sure how anyone can “like” this play. It is terribly, relentlessly, unapologetically sad. Reading this play made me really need a drink – just like most of the characters in the play. 

Although it is sad, this play is fascinating. O’Neill takes the four members of the Tyrone family, all rather unredeemable characters, and makes the audience feel acute empathy for them. I disliked all of the characters in the play, but I was deeply interested in their fate. I wanted good things for them. I wanted them all to be happy, to no longer be sad. The writing is simple but beautiful, and the characters feel much more developed than other characters I have encountered in my limited exposure to drama (mostly Shakespeare and Wilder). I have never read a work of fiction that so perfectly describes a dysfunctional family, or so fully understands complex family dynamics. Long Day’s Journey into Night was difficult and painful for me to read, but I was very glad to have experienced it. 

Review of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

Standard

Image

I’ll admit, when I was first assigned this play for class, I was not looking forward to reading it. I expected the play to be as dry as the Victorian writing that my class had just slogged through. But Wilde was completely different. The language Wilde used was still quite foreign for my modern sensibilities, but the language was brilliant. Wilde’s wordplay is exceptional. This is a play that must be read slowly, and over and over. I feel as though I could read this play ten times and still find myself laughing at new lines. It is full of hilarious moments, and it also makes some serious statements about Wilde’s culture at the time. Wilde’s writing seems to be full of a barely contained joy for life and love. I think he was the complete embodiment of his movement, aestheticism, and loved making art for art’s sake.

I can’t say anything about this play that hasn’t already been said. Just read it. It is worth investing an afternoon to read it. 

Review of “The Braindead Megaphone” by George Saunders

Standard

Image

As I finished The Braindead Megaphone today, I felt conflicting emotions: gratitude for Saunders, and his astonishing skill; sadness because I was sad to have finished the book; and happiness: the book helped me grow as a person.

I have read many Sedaris-style essay collections. And when I bought this book, I was expecting to read a book similar to Me Talk Pretty One Day. This book was more. Saunders explores culture, politics, and art in his signature comedic/satiric style. The most important essays for me were “The Braindead Megaphone” and “The Great Divider.” In “The Braindead Megaphone,” Saunders discusses modern political commentary, and the rise of the talking heads. The term “the braindead megaphone” refers to those idiotic political pundits that reach a vast audience by simply being the loudest and most aggressive (we’re lookin’ at you, O’Reilly). In the essay, Saunders also viciously attacks the War on Terror. I may have liked this essay overmuch because Saunders and I have similar political ideologies, but it is good writing nonetheless. Many essays in the book cover issues like the War on Terror because this book was published during that time; although some of these essays are slightly dated, I still appreciated being able to read about the situation from Saunders’ viewpoint. “The Great Divider” is an essay about the immigration debate. Saunders visited the US/Mexico border. He spent time with border patrol and a group of vigilante Minutemen (citizens that have unnecessarily volunteered to guard the border). It was fascinating to learn more about the Minutemen and Minutewomen, who are mostly middle-class white Americans who have been convinced that undocumented Hispanic immigrants are a terrifying, dangerous group. Saunders also detailed many stories of individual undocumented immigrants, which was simultaneously disheartening, uplifting, and terribly sad. I never expected I would cry while reading Saunders, but I did. It’s a sign of good writing to be able to, in the same essay, challenge your readers’ beliefs, make them laugh, and make them cry.

Saunders also writes about other non-political (for the most part) topics, such as his travels to Dubai and Nepal, an essay from the perspective of a dog, and many essays related to literature and writing. The book includes a great essay, “The United States of Huck,” which is Saunders’ introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I have a deep appreciation of Mark Twain as a person, but I haven’t read the novels since early high school. This essay made me want to pick up the novel immediately. It explored Twain’s genius and failures, the controversy the novel provokes, its place in the Western literary cannon, and its lasting effects on American literature. I would recommend this essay to any Twain fan. The book also contained a couple essays on writing: “Thank You, Esther Forbes,” which is about writing good sentences, and “The Perfect Gerbil,” which lays out proper plot construction, focusing on rising action and plot resolution. I plan to revisit these in the future in order to improve my own creative writing.

I enjoyed this book. Many people critique Saunders’ use of humor as hit or miss, but I think it rarely falls flat. I love his writing style and insight. I have read many of his short stories/novellas, and this essay collection contained similar themes and styles. Saunders is a deeply funny writer, but frequently uses humor to draw attention to difficult or important issues, critiquing the culture through exposing its ineptitudes and tragicomic failures. We can all learn from him, but can only aspire to write like him.

Up next: Light in August by Wm. Faulkner, and the year in review!