Pardon the photobombing by my new Arya figurine. She arrived from Westeros yesterday and is still acclimatizing to our world. Yes Arya, this is a phone. Yes Arya, I am taking a picture with my phone. Yes Arya, there’s a camera IN my phone. OKAY OKAY I’LL LET YOU PLAY WITH IT LATER JUST LET ME TAKE A PHOTO OF THESE BOOKS FIRST.
Huzzah, I’ve finished two books! But alas, I’m writing on them briefly because I have several more posts queuing in my drafts folder, and I want to get them out by next week, so without further ado, let’s get cracking.
Five Quarters of the Orange and I got off to a good start. Harris’ prose was fantastic—lean, descriptive, and oh so lyrical. And the premise seemed interesting, the reading experience promising. Young Framboise, with all her wild tomboyish ways, was an easy drop in the bucket. I love spirited heroines, and I warmed up to ‘Boise perhaps all the more quickly for having a stubborn, difficult, embittered mother who was as frustrating as she was tragic. I enjoyed her romps through the countryside, the frankness with which she, now as an old woman, looks back at her escapades. Children are cruel, she admits, and I nodded in agreement, thinking back to my own childhood and the stuff we did. But about halfway through the book, my patience began thinning exponentially. There was no growth in the characters, little variety in the message that old Boise wanted to get across. I get that Boise had a difficult mother, that her mother had chronic migraines and a hatred for oranges that bordered on paranoia. But dang it Boise, DID YOU REALLY HAVE TO GO ON ABOUT IT I GOT IT LIKE A HUNDRED PAGES AGO. Last night, I ended up skimming the last few chapters—the chapters that I wish Harris had fleshed out because dang it, it was interesting. Way more interesting than the repetitive flashbacks we were saddled with. (Also, who doesn’t like a revenge tale between elderly underdogs and douchebaggy relatives?) But to its credit, Five Quarters made me ponder—about my own childhood, my own complicated relationship with my mother, about children and mothers in general, and how the past has a tendency to repeat itself.
The Grapes of Wrath reminded me of The Jungle—a family of honest, hardworking folk trying to make ends meet in a barrage of unfortunate events inflicted upon them by a force outside of their control. But unlike Jurgis and his family, whom I felt were unnecessarily victimized by their author, the Joads are strong characters who met each disappointment and trial with dignity and perseverance. No matter what happened they pushed forward, not allowing themselves to wallow in self-pity. I wouldn’t say this book is inspirational—it was intended to be a scathing critique of corporate greed, of the economic inequality in American society. But I do admire that family. And I love Steinbeck. I loved the prose in Grapes, how it’s so matter-of-fact, yet lyrical. The first chapter, when the narrator describes the condition of the parched land and the hard-pressed farmers, rings of epic poetry like The Iliad and Beowulf. I also appreciate Steinbeck’s frankness in his depiction of the harsh realities of the time. What happened to those tenant farmers was terrible: the banks seizing their land, kicking them off. Doesn’t matter that they lived and died on that land, worked the land, raised families on that land. With the foreclosures that happened only a few years ago, it makes me wonder if things haven’t really changed.