The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper

 

Harper Perennial calls The Marbled Swarm, Dennis Cooper’s “most haunting work to date,” and it is impossible to disagree. Although this latest from Cooper is more psychological and subtle, in many aspects, than most of his other works, it is perhaps because of those reasons that it is even more effective. The book is disturbing, as is typical from Cooper. The narrator, a deeply troubled young man with fantasies of incest on the brain, is consumed by homicidal and cannibalistic tendencies. The layers of his mind are just as twisted, concealed, and misleading as the secret passageways and hidden rooms that encompass his father’s voyeuristic mansion. The book, at its core, is a mystery story, which parallels the physical reality with the narrator’s subconscious, and what the reader finds in both places is darkly troubling.   

A narrator who refuses to identify as gay, but whose sexual perversions include raping and killing boys (particularly of the “Emo” type), then eating them; a father who spies on his sons, and who slowly and subtly persuades them to become sexually infatuated with each other; a boy who lies about being raped by his father to his brother, and by his brother to his father, with the hope that one of them will rape him; men who kidnap boys, alter them through plastic and bone surgery so they will look like their fantasy type, then sell them for sexual favors to men with twisted desires. These are just some of the characters in The Marbled Swarm. Individually, each is sick, twisted, and alarming in his own right; together, they create a world of psychological distrubia. The narrator and main character is the most interesting of the bunch, perhaps because the reader witnesses some of his secrets unfold chapter-by-chapter. His younger brother and father are also fascinating, in a “this car crash makes me want to vomit but I can’t turn my head” kind of way. Ultimately, the group serves to progress the story’s purpose, which is a commentary on language and communication, as well as Cooper’s modus operandi – exposing the terrible side of humanity and the evil side of desire. 

Cooper’s writing style is nearly unmatched; he is a type of writer that has been unknown in American Literature since William Burroughs. Although his themes are twisted and hard to stomach for most, his ability as a writer are laudable to say the least. His mastery of language, his ability to advance a plot seamlessly, and the sickeningly playful way he messes with his readers minds are impossible to overlook, despite how unsavory the subject matter. In The Marbled Swarm, Cooper has accomplished all that his previous works attempted, which is saying much, because his previous works were groundbreaking in their own right. In retrospect, though, it is clear to see that Cooper has been developing over time, getting better and better; and this latest, his masterpiece, is proof of how hard he has been working to perfect his craft. 

After admiring Cooper’s work for nearly a decade, I can say that, though I have loved and been fascinated by almost every book, poem, and essay the man has ever written, this is the book all previous works were helping to develop. It is, by far, Cooper’s most complex piece to date, and also his finest in craft, in theory, and in delivery. The fluid prose, disturbing subject matter, and psychological warfare (within the story and between narrator and reader) make this book a demonstrable work of genius. Had this been just a story about a disturbed young man who had sexual attractions for his brother and father, and who liked to eat human flesh, the book would have been sick, sad, and confusing; however, though that is technically what happens in the book, it is not what the book is about. This is a story about desire and depression; it is a story about cravings and theatrics;  it is a story about the pleasure of playing “the witness” in horrifying situations and, most importantly, it is a story about story-telling. 

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0

 

 

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Thoughts: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

17237214Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD:  51


When you look at the cover for Two Boys Kissing, you get a pretty good idea of what this book will be about.  Then you read the synopsis on the inside cover and your idea becomes a bit more defined, a bit clearer.  Finally, you sit down to read the book, only to discover that your first impressions were of the vaguest kind.  In Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan brings back the literary chorus of old.  The narrative guides of Shakespeare and Ovid at long last reappear, this time through the collective voice of our “ancient” gay predecessors.  These are the men and women who bravely pioneered the social frontier, the rainbow-clad Lewis & Clark who pressed love onward – quietly or with booming voice- and who were lost to one of the greatest tragedies of our day, the AIDS epidemic.

As our guide, this chorus reveals to us a day in the life of multiple contemporary gay youths, in many iterations of the “type.”  The main couple, Craig and Harry, are the two boys kissing, but they are not a couple at all (although they used to be).  Their goal is to stand up for equality by breaking the world’s record for longest kiss – hoping that the process and the end result of two boys’ names together in a permanent book of world record will get people thinking, if not change the world entirely. They are also standing up for their friend, who was violently and viciously beaten for being gay.

In addition to their primary story, the chorus also gives us a peek into the worlds of Peter and Neil, a young couple who are learning what that word, “couple,” means; learning how to navigate life for themselves and for each other, including, most importantly, how to understand and respond to one another, sometimes without words.   We also meet Avery and Ryan, both of whom have their demons, past and present, and who must confront the idea of what it means to be different, even within the same “gay world.”

Finally, we see Cooper, the boy who no one sees and who refuses to be seen.  Cooper’s story is where the chorus truly rallies – where these spirit guides are needed most, lest we forget that where we came from and where we are going are inextricably linked.  Technology advances, and these advancements change our perspectives and our possibilities, but for boys like Cooper, the loneliness and isolation only grow deeper, more vacuous.

Two Boys Kissing is the gay anthem for our day.  It is the very book created from the very inspirations that many of us have been waiting to read for a long, long time.  Levithan pulls stories from the real world and links them to our present and our past.  He does this through the eyes of a compassionate yet devastatingly helpless and sometimes forgotten chorus of our forbearers. Levithan, since the publication of his wonderful short novel Boy Meets Boy ten years ago, has veered from the idyllic and romantic, to the daring and experimental (Every You, Every Me), and the exploratory (Every Day), right into the real, the raw, and the historical.  He keeps getting better, and Two Boys Kissing is a triumph indeed.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: YA+
Interest: LGBT, Transgender, Relationships, First Loves, Coming-of-Age, Interconnected Plots, Family, Depression, Hate Crimes.


Notable Quotes:

“We thought of magic as something that existed with or without us. But that’s not true. Things are not magical because they’ve been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them.”

“You spend so much time, so much effort, trying to hold yourself together. And then everything falls apart anyway.”

“It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being. It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings. It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.”

“What strange creatures we are, to find silence peaceful, when permanent silence is the thing we most dread. Nighttime is not that. Nighttime still rustles, still creaks and whispers and trembles in its throat.  It is not darkness we fear, but our own helplessness within it.”

“Our bodies don’t have to be touching to be connected to one another. Our heart races without contact. Our breath holds until the threat is gone.”

“You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things.”

“Here we are, thousands of us, shouting no, shouting at him to stop, crying out and making a net of our bodies, trying to come between him and the water.”

“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living.”


Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020 

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

By Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 39

 

 

 


Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful.

I was introduced to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Laura of Owl Tell You About It, who had nothing but glowing things to say about this book.  A quick Goodreads and Amazon scan brought up a lot of other positive reviews, some of them outstanding, and from bloggers I’ve been connected with for a while.  How did I miss this one?

The story is about two teenage boys, Aristotle and Dante, whose lives and personalities seem worlds apart, but who are connected by something stronger than circumstances.  Although they and their families are very different, the two boys soon become friends (not without plenty of tense moments) and stumble upon a universe all their own – two planets, as different as Earth and Mars, but orbiting each other in the most natural way.   

Through painful accidents and dangerous situations, through tragedy and loss, through long-distances and secret family histories rediscovered, what Aristotle, especially, learns is that it is okay to be vulnerable – to need someone.  And what Dante learns is how to be needed, and how to be patient.  This is a story about two boys, Ari and Dante, one who is sure about who he is and the other who is on a difficult path to discovery.  Their worlds collide and the friendship they create in the process might be enough to destroy them, or to save their lives.


Characterization:
4 – Characters very well-developed.

Aristotle, Dante, and their parents.  These are the primary and secondary characters in a book that is rather light on characters, which is fine because the real story is Dante & Aristotle.  Some others make their appearances, in brief or in memory.  Aristotle’s brother and sisters, for instance, and Dante’s boyfriend.  But the story is, start-to-finish, in-and-out, all about Dante and Aristotle.  Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is well-read, artistic, and self-confident.  Ari prefers solitude and quiet – he harbors a darkness, an anger, and has a hard time communicating. Dante loves poetry and loves to draw.  Ari spends most of his time thinking about his older brother (who is incarcerated), and about why his parents refuse to talk about it.  Dante is fair-skinned and beautiful, but longs to feel closer to his Mexican heritage;  Ari is darker, plain, and wouldn’t mind being less obviously Mexican. 

Somehow, these two very different boys find each other, balance each other, and develop a friendship that fits them both like nothing ever has.  Dante manages to penetrate Aristotle’s defences, and Aristotle helps keep Dante grounded, giving him the strength and courage he will need to confront his biggest fear.  Through it all, they share words and dreams, poetry and laughter, books, games, and even artwork.   Together, they  realize that the universe doesn’t just surround them – it is what they create for themselves.


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

If the story itself isn’t wonderful enough (it is), the way it is delivered cannot be ignored.  This is the first book I’ve read by Sáenz, but numerous people told me, while reading this, how much they enjoyed his prose and storytelling abilities.  I’m jumping on the bandwagon.  His prose is sparse but romantic.  The complexities of language – of finding the right word for the right moment – are part of Aristotle’s journey, so the prose itself becomes a part of the story.  Vivid imagery, beautiful language, emotional knuckle-punches, and a great sense of humor all pack themselves into a carefully crafted style that is accompanied by natural dialogue and a unique narrative perspective. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

If I am being honest, I must admit that I was disappointed by this book in two ways; first, by the final reveal (or revelation?) and second by the way that reveal came about.  I was incredibly excited to possibly have discovered a genuine, touching, “boy’s boy” book about two guy friends, one of whom just happens to be gay.  But it doesn’t turn out exactly as it appears, and even if the ending isn’t too deftly veiled, one (me, at least) still hoped it would go a certain way.  I realize I’m being ambiguous, but it’s hard to talk about what happens without giving away the whole ball game – and since this is such a beautiful story told in such a wonderful way, I definitely do not want to spoil it for anyone.  Others might be perfectly pleased with the way it turns out, though, again, I’m not sure that anyone could be thrilled with its mode of delivery.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Prove me wrong! 

Ultimately, this is a sweet, sweet book filled with emotion, passion, love, pain, and reality.  It’s a coming of age story that is believable and remarkable at the same time.  Even though I would have taken the ending in a different direction, I’m still thrilled with the experience of reading this book – it has won countless awards, and it’s not hard to understand why.  We’re looking at a new standard for honest, contemporary YA with realistic male characters and topical issues, delivered in a believable and magical way.  Right on.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest:  Friendship, Family, Mexican-American, Gay, Coming of Age, First Love, YA.


Notable Quotes:

“The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”

“I got to thinking that poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just didn’t get – and never would get.”

“That afternoon, I learned two new words. ‘Inscrutable’ ‘friend.’ Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

“And it seemed to me that Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without any darkness.”

“You can’t make anyone be an adult. Especially an adult.”

“The summer sun was not meant for boys like me. Boys like me belonged to the rain.”


The Beats of Summer: A Reading Event! (Sign-Up Post)

Welcome to the sign-up post for:

BeatsOfSummer-ButtonThe Beats of Summer: A Reading Event!

Summertime is coming, and what better time than Summer to immerse ourselves in the works of the most rebellious, daring, and “hot” generation of American writers??

For this event, the goal is to read as many pieces of “Beat Generation” literature as you want to, from June 1st through July 14th. Audiobooks, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction all count, as long as the writer is considered to be a part of the Beat Generation.  Memoirs, biographies, essays, theory/criticism or other works of non-fiction written about The Beats are also acceptable!

Update: We are looking for volunteers to provide Guest Posts and/or offer Giveaways throughout the event. If you would be interesting in participating in this capacity, please fill out This Form. And Thanks!

What is the Beat Generation?

“In American in the 1950s, a new cultural and literary movement staked its claim on the nation’s consciousness. The Beat Generation was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic. The Beat Generation saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, the Beats stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before.”  –The Literature Network

I will post throughout the event to  discuss different subjects related to The Beat Generation, its writers, and its influences on later movements in literature, film, and music, as well as my own reviews of the Beat Generation books that I finish.  I will also be offering giveaways, and I am hopeful that some participants will be interested in writing guest posts or hosting giveaways of their own, to make this more interactive!

Below is a  list of writers and works of The Beat Generation.  This list is by no means comprehensive, it is simply a starting point.

Major Writers:
Richard Brautigan
William S. Burroughs
Neal Cassady
Gregory Corso
Diane DiPrima
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Allen Ginsberg
John Clellon Holmes
Joyce Johnson
Hettie Jones
Jack Kerouac
Joanne Kyger
Gary Snyder
Carl Solomon

Important Works:
Dharma Bums
Gasoline (poetry)
Howl (poetry)
Minor Characters (memoir)
Naked Lunch
On the Road
Queer
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (memoir)

Affiliated Writers/Biographers:
James Campbell (This is the Beat Generation)
Carolyn Cassady (Off the Road)
Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Brenda Knight (Women of the Beat Generation)
Matt Theado (The Beats: A Literary Reference)
Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

In the meantime, if you would like to host a giveaway or provide a guest post, please: CLICK HERE.

And if you want to sign-up to participate in The Beats of Summer (yay!), just leave a comment on this post saying YOU’RE IN! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read.  I plan to read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (in an announcement post or in your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation.  It goes without saying that this is meant to be a positive, fun, and educational event – it’s an at-will project, so negativity is a no-go!

Sign-ups are open from now through June 15th.  If you sign-up after June 15th, you can still absolutely participate, but you may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes.

To Share/Discuss on Twitter, Use Hashatag #BeatsOfSummer

Thoughts: Gods and Monsters by Christopher Bram

79986Gods and Monsters by Christopher Bram
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
YTD: 34

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Gods and Monsters, originally published under the title Father of Frankenstein is a creative retelling of the life of Hollywood director James Whale, who is responsible for films such as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Show Boat, and The Man in the Iron Mask.  The story focuses specifically on the last two weeks of Whale’s life, after he has suffered from stroke, but also includes many flashbacks which give the reader insight into Whale’s boyhood in England, his rise to fame and glory in theater and Hollywood, and his sad decline following the studio butchering of what may have been his crowning achievement, The Road Back.  Whale was an open homosexual in a time when homosexuality in the industry was both accepted but also ignored.  Later in his life, after retiring from Hollywood and after the industry had become much more conservative following the war, Whale separated from his long-time partner and attempted to find himself as a secluded painter.  Bram tells his story by introducing a gardener, Clayton Boone, whom Whale admires physically and whom sits for Whale, as a life model.  Their unlikely friendship is both sad and touching, one which, perhaps, gives Whale the courage he needs to exit life on his own terms, and which gives Boone the human connection, mentorship, and guidance he had been lacking all his life.  Although this relationship is fictional and Clayton Boone, as far as anyone can tell, is a figment of the author’s imagination, still it provides for a gut-wrenching and heartwarming inside-look at Classic Hollywood and the sad realities that touched even its greatest icons.  

Characterization:
4– Characters very well-developed.

As one who knows very little about cinema, film studies, or “insider” Hollywood during the 1930s, it is impossible for me to judge how realistic the story and its characters are; however, as a story in itself, with fictional characters (based on real ones), it is at the top of the class.  James Whale is a fascinating man – his decision to create a sequel to Frankenstein (the film that became Bride of Frankenstein) was a difficult one for him to come to, as he was not, by nature, a “horror” director.  He was, however, gay man in a powerful position and with powerful gay and lesbian friends, all of whom (Whale included) were nonetheless marginalized –tolerated only as long as their private lives and actions were kept quiet.  With Bride of Frankenstein, Whale’s personality truly comes through, and Bram does an exception job of showing that personality in Gods and Monsters.  Jimmy Whale was charismatic, clever, quick-witted, and extremely playful.  Bride was a true subversion, cloaked in a campy horror film.  The addition of Clayton Boone, an all-American heterosexual man, allows for the character Whale to be fully flushed by giving someone to oppose him but also by giving him someone to talk to.  The other characters, such as Whale’s maid, Maria; and a young film student, Edmund; or his first romantic love interest and other Hollywood contemporaries (David Lewis, Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester, etc.)  provide wonderful context, both in the book’s present setting and in flashbacks to Whale’s Hollywood and pre-Hollywood days.

Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

This is the first Christopher Bram novel that I have read, but it will not be the last (The Notorious Dr. August and Lives of the Circus Animals, in particular, look fascinating).  He is a wonderful storyteller and his artistic choices are nearly perfect in every instance.  The book read almost as if it was intended for the screen, which would be appropriate considering the book is about the director of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films of all-time.  Bram’s language and prose are almost spellbinding – complicated enough to match the intricate and emotional plot, and distinct enough to raise the text above that of standard popular fiction. His choices in point of view, alternating chapters from Whale to Boone, to flashbacks or intermediaries (such as present third-person), allows the story much more depth and opportunity than it would have had, were it to be told from any one person’s narrative perspective.  There were some moments, particularly with Boone, that seemed a bit weaker, and there were a few proofing errors (very few and very minor) which should have been cleaned up, particularly considering this edition was in its third printing; but these were small flaws to an otherwise gripping narrative.  

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

Few stories match the power of a dying man’s and even fewer can match the poignancy of a story-teller’s final production.  Gods and Monsters is about a man, at the end of his days, experiencing life all over again.  Whale, notorious for embellishing his past, is given, in this fictionalized account, the opportunity to come to terms with who he truly is and with where he really came from – including the lovers he had and lost along the way, the successes and failures that made and broke his career, and the friends and monsters he surrounded himself with, throughout it all.  How many of us bury the more painful parts of our own histories?  How many of us ignore what we can’t or won’t acknowledge?  Gods and Monsters is much more than a story about a Hollywood director, though much of its fascination is absolutely in imagining what Whale’s life in 1930s Hollywood would have been like; still, the true tale is of life and death – of honesty and illusion.  The friendship between an old “fairy” and a young, “man’s man” is strained, confusing, uncomfortable, kind of horrible, but incredibly beautiful.   Bram gives us a glimpse of what the reality of Hollywood, if there is such a thing, might be like – but he also drives home the point that we are all directors of our own lives, making editing choices and casting decisions which, in the end, might come back to haunt us.     

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  16+
Interest:  Film History, Classic Hollywood, Fictional Biography, Gay Fiction, Friendship, Death and Dying.

Notable Quotes:

“Imitation is a form of understanding” (11).

“Sex is as bad as drink for the way it consumes energy . . . it squanders the passion he needs to climb out of the common life into the greater world” (24).

“It hangs on him like a suit of clothes he’s too thin to wear anymore. The truth stands closer to him now, peering over his shoulder” (33).

“He wants to burn his soul clean by being part of something terrible and real, an intense experience that would prove he’d been somewhere” (128).

“We should never let the opinions of others stand between us and what we want” (188).

 

Gods and Monsters is Book #9 completed for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

Thoughts: Shine by Lauren Myracle

8928054Shine by Lauren Myracle
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 31

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Cat and Patrick are best of friends.  Cat is a tomboy who doesn’t mind getting a bit dirty and who doesn’t realize just how pretty she is.  Patrick is a bit of a nerd and an introvert, though he does have friends.  He’s also openly gay, which is brave considering he and Cat live in very rural North Carolina.  As Cat becomes a teenager, she learns, in a terrible way, just how much her body has changed and how she has begun to catch the eye of boys her age (and older).  Although the disturbing thing that happens to her is only alluded to during the first part of the story, it clearly affects her relationship with her family and with her friends – she, too, becomes introverted and, because of this, is not with her best friend Patrick when the book’s major tragedy strikes.  She blames herself for not being there to help and, on her quest to find out what happened and to bring the criminal to justice, she also begins to repair herself and her old friendships, and even to seek out new ones. 

Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

Although some of the characters, such as Jason, a friend of Patrick’s who, like Cat, is determined to find out what happened to him, seem a bit too conveniently placed to be believable, most of them are integral to the plot, work well with the story, and fit in with the particular group of people in this particular place that Myracle has created.  Mama Sweetie, Patrick’s grandmother, leaves a legacy for Patrick and Cat even after she is gone; Cat’s father, brother, and aunt, all play pivotal roles in developing her character and her response to Patrick’s tragedy; her friends (The Redneck Posse) are realistic in their actions, good and bad, and in the ways they treat one another, as well as any outsiders.  They are complex enough, too, to add further mystery to the plot and to complicate Cat’s investigation, not to mention her own attempt at reintegrating herself with the group.  The minor characters, such as the church ladies, the meth cooker, and the bar tender, are static (some might say cliché), but they do round-out the community environment and serve their purposes.

Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

For the most part, I found Myracle’s prose to be perfectly suited to the reading level and the tone of the novel.  She clearly knows a great deal about this particular region (or areas like it) or has researched it enough to portray it in a realistic way.  That being said, the dialogue (and internal monologues) sometimes came across as less than natural.  Still, it was well-written and well-executed.  Allowing Cat to be the narrator post-incident, and to reflect on those incidents (her major pain as well as Patrick’s) while she was investigating what happened, was a great approach, as it allowed the protagonist to grow and mature in a recognizable way.  Seeing Cat as a child, through her own memory, and watching her come to terms with difficult things in her life, particularly when she begins to understand the reasons why some of the people in her life may have let her down, provides much of the power and depth of the story, so crafting the plot this way and then delivering it so that it unfolds naturally and slowly was a smart, creative choice.   

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

Cat, though the hero and protagonist of this book, also has her own demons to deal with and personality flaws to overcome.  Part of what makes this story such a good one is that it is not just about one mysterious hate crime or one person’s attempt to solve it.  Cat learns a lot about herself along the way – she is forced to admit to herself that even she was sometimes guilty of silent acquiescence, allowing others to bully her friend Patrick because she was afraid that, if she stood up for him, she might become the target.  Similarly, Beef’s story is also moving and doubly complex because of the two major secrets he carries.  This story isn’t just about friendship or a rural town’s bigotry; it’s not just about the rich versus the poor; it’s not about underground drug cartels or incompetent police forces.  It’s about a community steeped in tragedy, a community that is all of those things and more, all at the same time, and about a group of people who are trying to live as best they can when faced with obstacles great and small.   

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Young Adult (13+, with some mature elements)
Interest:  Coming-of-Age; Friendship; Homophobia; Rural South; Identity Issues; Family; Poverty; LGBT; Mystery; Drugs; YA.

Notable Quotes:

“I loved everyone who said yes to the world and tried to make it better instead of worse, because so much in the world was ugly.”

“Knowledge was more powerful than fear. Love was stronger than hate.”

“Girls kept their bodies tucked in tight, while boys took up every inch of room they could.”

“We all mess up.  It’s what we learn from our mistakes that matters.”

“You know it’s them books what make you talk funny.”

Shine is Book #8 completed for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

Thoughts: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

12222A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 24

A Streetcar Named Desire is my first experience with Tennessee Williams.  Going into this work, I knew very little about it and I knew very little about the writer.  As it turns out, I may have just discovered a new favorite.  Williams was a semi-openly gay man (at the time of this publication – he did come out publicly in the 1970s) whose works, though certainly rife with queer elements, did not deal directly with gay characters or situations.  A Streetcar Named Desire, though, like The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is a perfect example of how Williams subverts heteronormative literary traditions in order to queer his text.  The play is about two sisters: Blanche, a mild, hypersensitive, and mentally disturbed/delusional middle-aged woman; and Stella, subordinate, sexual, and a symbol of the “New South.”  It is also about Stella’s husband, Stanley.  He is disturbingly sympathetic – an evil man who one can’t help but identify with.  Not since reading Lolita and encountering Mr. Humbert Humbert have I felt so simultaneously enthralled by and repulsed by a literary character.

Blanche, who has suffered two major traumas, comes to New Orleans to stay with her sister and brother-in-law for a short time, until she can get back on her feet.  It is soon discovered that these traumas have been the impetus for certain scandals which have forced Blanche out of her hometown and her career.  These secrets are revealed to Stanley through informants (he is a man of “connections” – likely due to his time in the Army and his lingering camaraderie with GI Vets), but Blanche continues to lie and tell stories right up to the end; the end being one of the most disturbing imaginable. Stanley, in all his pure heterosexuality and machismo is the source of the play’s sexual gaze.  This is a revelation for the time period and is in fact, ironically, one of the two major sources of queerness in the play.  Blanche and her history explain the second and more obvious queering.  The most interesting element of this play, and there are many, is that these two queer representations are battling each other for supremacy over the heteronormative element, which is to say – Stella.

What is particularly powerful and unique about the play, and I hear this is common for most of Williams’s plays, is that it is much more about language and character than it is about story (though that is there too, obviously).  The nature, the structure, of plays typically do not lend themselves well to story-through-language or through characterization, due to their sparseness; however, Williams tells quite a bit of his story in the stage direction, so it is easy to see why this play would be so difficult to stage successfully (and, to my knowledge, it has only been done perfectly well in one instance – with is that of the first staging, including Marlon Brando).  Williams comments on the changing nature of gender roles and sexual politics, post-World War II; he adeptly, brilliantly, exposes the new American male – the romantic but tragic and dangerous hero-come-home.  Women, who had taken up work and head-of-household positions were suddenly forced back into their homes, back into submission, and the power dynamics, social confusion, and family disruption this caused is clearly explored and sensitively, if shockingly, delivered.

He also comments on elements such as “New South versus Old South,” mental health, pederasty, post-traumatic stress disorder, class, race, gender, power, and control.  This short play packs a wallop – it is loaded with themes, yet so delicately crafted that the characters and their stories still manage to come first. While Tennessee Williams is largely considered to be a “New Realist” or “Expressionist,” and this certainly shows in the themes of this play and in its construction, I would argue that this play is a work of Modern Tragedy, particularly due to the absence of religion/morality and the inability of any character to gain redemption or find peace.  The film, though perfectly cast and lovingly produced, unfortunately changes the ending and one of the most important dialogic moments, which eliminates the modern and tragic elements of the play.  This is a great disappointment, as the play itself is perhaps perfect – which is simultaneously why it is one of the most often produced, most sought out by high-profile actors, and most disappointingly delivered.

This is one of the most moving, enjoyable, disturbing, and surprising works that I have read this year.  I am eager to read more from Tennessee Williams, hopefully in the very near future (I’m considering pursuing him as a project, after finishing with John Steinbeck).

Notable Quotes:

“They told me to take a street-car named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!”

“When I was sixteen, I made the discovery – love. All at once and much, much too completely.”

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”