Books, Documentaries, Reviews: Renata Adler, PITCH DARK review

Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  March 31, 2014

Renata Adler’s PITCH DARK


I promised I’d “let you know” what I thought about Renata Adler’s novel Pitch Dark,  published in 1983.


You may recall in an earlier blog post that I’d heard this novel recommended during a pre-New Year’s “Best Books of 2013” NPR program.

This novel is a very “modern” novel–in that it is challenging the very form of the novel itself.

You may recall that I also wrote recently about Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Marriage Plot, wherein Eugenides attempts to forge a novel that does not fall back on the “marriage plot” since with divorce, women are no longer tied to marriages they want to abandon.


But Renata Adler moves light years beyond the still-entertaining story of The Marriage Plot.  Adler does not have a plot at all.  This “novel” consists of a series of vignettes that are not even loosely held together and that are all mixed up in time.  There is no narrative flow.

Is it interesting?

Yes, some of the vignettes are.  And she does circle back to at least one so the reader gets some sense of the final outcome.  And I think she circled back to show just how deep the moral abyss can be in modern society.

I enjoyed the protagonists musings on social and historical events and on how some of our systems work.  These musings certainly provoke one to think a bit more deeply.

But, I do think Muriel Sparks, who wrote the Afterward, is correct:

This, I think is the vision of life reflected in Miss Adler’s fiction.  Nothing evolves, nothing derives.  Effects do not result from causes.  Episodes are recorded without any connection with each other.  Fortunately, they are fascinating episodes.

So, what happens to the moral fabric of society is one can no longer be certain that certain desired effects stem from causes, that if one does bad things they will be punished in some way?  Truthfully, bad people are not always punished.  Some of them make and enjoy a great deal of money.  And good can come out of bad, as we clearly see in Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH, also discussed on this blog.  What happens if we are all more adrift in society than we ever thought?  What happens if some of us are “disciplined subjects” and follow the rules, but others don’t.  And, prosper.

This novel is not for everyone.  It’s not an easy, enjoyable read with a pleasant narrative that takes us away from ourselves.  No, rather, it focuses on truths and questions most of us would rather avoid because there isn’t anything we can do about them at all.  And that’s not going to change in a modern world where people are so detached from one another, where a community is not viewing the actions of its individual members with an eye toward protecting the health of the community.



Books, Documentaries, Reviews: Jeffrey Eugenides, THE MARRIAGE PLOT

Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  March 23, 2014

The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides

I really enjoyed this novel.



The setting is Brown University (mostly flashbacks) and the year or so after the three main characters graduate and are trying to get on their feet.

Madeleine loves to read and has majored in Literature.  She loves Leonard, who is brilliant but is just coming to grips with pretty severe mental illness–extreme manic/depressive swings.  Mitchell loves Madeleine and is seriously trying to work out how to live a life of meaning and purpose which may or may not include Madeleine.

Here’s a quote that can orient you a bit:

Her junior year, Madeleine had taken an honors seminar called The Marriage Plot:  Selected Novels of Austen, Eliot, and James.  The class was taught by K. McCall Saunders….a seventy-nine-year-old New Englander….In Saunders’s opinion the novel had reached its apogee with the marriage plot and had never recovered from its disappearance.  In the days when success in life had depended on marriage, and marriage had depended on money, novelists had had a subject to write about.  The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage.  Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel.  And divorce had undone it completely.  What would it matter whom Emma married if she could file for separation later?  How would Isabel Archer’s marriage to Gilbert Osmond have been affected by the existence of a prenup?  As far as Saunders was concerned, marriage didn’t mean much anymore, and neither did the novel.  Where could you find the marriage plot nowadays?  You couldn’t.  You had to read historical fiction.  You had to read non-Western novels involving traditional societies.  Afghani novels, Indian novels.  You had to go, literarily speaking, back in time (21-22).

Madeleine’s senior thesis involves the marriage plot in Victorian novels.

Yet, she marries Leonard, knowing he is very ill.  She had walked out on him after he had egregiously insulted her some weeks before graduation, and, perhaps she felt responsible for the hospitalization that followed and for the next year when he is on so many medications that he can hardly function.  Perhaps she was motivated by feeling that he loved her after all–a kind of “I got my man.”  Perhaps she thought she could help cure him–the ancient nurturing role for women.  Who knows?  But it is a “marriage plot” of sorts, isn’t it?  So is Eugenides trying to write a novel about marriage that is still valid?

Mitchell carries Madeleine in his imagination and his desires as his “ideal” woman–which is another form of  the Western marriage plot, one that involves “winning” the woman, loving her forever, ideal marriage, and so on and on.  After graduation, he travels the world, including India, and begins to sort out romance and culture from reality.  He writes Madeleine from India imploring her not to marry Leonard and suggesting they both go back to school and live together.  He will study theology; she will study Victorian novels or whatever she wants.

How does it all end up?

I won’t tell…

Warning:  there is a lot of philosophical discussion about the meaning of life, modern notions of deconstruction, etc., all of which is pertinent and interesting in a college class setting, but which may be off-putting to some readers.  Indeed, I think it was to some reviewers, which is kind of sad, actually.

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: THE GOLDFINCH, Donna Tartt–and MORE

Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  February 5, 2014

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt


I promised several people I would report back on what I thought about The Goldfinch.

It’s a BIG novel–some 700 pages.

I loved it.  I loved every page of it.  I was sad to see it finished.

Many themes run through this novel.  Some are listed below:

The long-term impact of the sudden, violent loss of the mother for a child.

The long-term impact of being within a sudden, violent episode–being in close proximity of a bomb going off inside a building.

The long-term impact of having an irresponsible parent in charge of you–with no way out really.

The growing up, the life journey to maturity (whatever that is) wherein you come to grips with how much you are like the irresponsible parent you hate and how much you have refused to see that person’s good points.

The role of strangers in our lives–strangers who make a huge difference.

The depth of a friendship forged within situations that neither person can fully control and what is done to survive.  Or, to hide and just make it all go away.

The role of art, of a painting, in our lives.

Where is good really located in our lives?  And, where evil?   And can good come out of bad?

What does it mean to love without judgment?

I could go on.  And on.

* * *

So, I am reading Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot before going to sleep at night.  And, enjoying it so far.

Here’s a review:

I’m listening to Alice Munro’s Dear Life while I quilt.  I started it yesterday afternoon–I had to wait my turn to download it on the Maine Library Systems audio book downloads.  I sewed until almost 8 p.m. before stopping to organize some dinner as I was enjoying it so much.  I love Munro’s short stories.  They are brilliant.  And, warrant listening to more than once as they are like a movie, in that the first viewing is an assault and you can’t take it all in, so you have to see the movie–read the story–twice.

Dear Life is the book club’s selection this month–and our meeting is Friday, so I’m going to be sewing a lot today.

While waiting for Dear Life, I downloaded another library audio book:  a P.D. James–An Unsuitable Job For A Woman (1972)–one of the Cordella Grey mysteries.  The depth of James is a pleasure to read/hear.

Having someone read a book to me recalls the pleasure I felt when my mother read to us growing up–which she did constantly.  The all-time favorite was Gene Stratton Porter’s Laddie, which I love to this day.  I read it to my mother not long before she died, while she rested on her back porch, and we laughed and pleasured our way through it.