Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Group and A Fortunate Age (and more rambling)


Recently finished both Joanna Smith Rakoff's A Fortunate Age and Mary McCarthy's The Group. Both were great reads, highly entertaining. The Group was more informative, simply because it's about a period in history (the 30s) that I don't generally read about.  As has been written about before, Rakoff's characters are more likable. Most of McCarthy's are either confused in an unattractive way, or just plain despicable. Harald's (who, in A Fortunate Agebecame Tuck) is more cruel and colder than Tuck. Or maybe the character is more developed in The Group which gives the reader more ample time to witness his cruelty to his wife (Kay in The Group, and Lil in A Fortunate Age).

Apart from the the impulsive doctor in both books, the husbands in A Fortunate Age are barely seen, and thus, we can't really judge their likeability. The pediatrician, Priss' husband in The Group, might be as cold and heartless as Harald, simply because he wants his wife and baby to be nothing more than guinea pigs. They are to be evidence that his theories work, regardless of what's best for them at the time. 

Priss is despicable because of how much she believes in her husband, and how afraid she is of standing up to him.

Norine (in The Group) / Caitlin (in A Fortunate Age) is the most ridiculous and odious character in both novels. Under the pretenses of intellect and activism, she is, at worst, an opportunist and at best a woman with a shaky set of principles and beliefs. She's one of those people who will use ideology (of any side) to justify every act, whether it is adultery or neglecting her child. Her beliefs and ideology are so changing, it makes you want to pull your hair out. And that need of hers to justify everything by drawing on what sociologists and psychologists/psychiatrists have declared is the most tiresome tendency you'll ever find in a character. It's also something that would send you running away from anyone you met in real life. In that, she reminded me of Mike, my ex, whose intellect and reliance on theories he probably didn't understand half of, I abhor with all my heart. That's how I felt about Norine too. 

Priss said about Norine that she couldn't remember Norine being such a stellar student at Vassar. Most people like Norine weren't great students or brilliant intellectuals. Brilliant intellectuals aren't depend on a whole range of theories. They have their own ideas and are able to defend those ideas on their own merit.

Norine and Harald, who are always believed to be brilliant, never produce anything of value that can give credence to that belief, simply because they're lazy and don't seem to have any ideas of their own. People like Lakey and Polly are probably intellectually more impressive than those two. It's always the ones that show off the most who have the least valid excuses to show off.

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Between the two, I read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which I wasn't as impressed with as with Wonder Boys. I admire the fact that Chabon wrote it when he was in grad school. But I just didn't get as much into it as I expected to.

I read a chapter/article in Granta's Chicago issue about Barack Obama's supposed impact on national and world politics. I write 'supposed' because this must have been written in the first three or four months after his election and it was all full of hypotheses of what his election would bring about. Regardless, it was very interesting.

I'm going to start reading The White Album in a few minutes, and I also need to read a couple of articles in the New York Times about the Tea Party movement, which is bound to scare the crap out of me, like all articles about this movement do. I wish I could laugh it off. Unfortunately, I see ignorance and hate every day, and each evidence of people's ignorance just makes me increasingly scared for our societies. When I see how ignorant some of my students and my boss are, I just pray that there are very few people like them, but then I hear people on the street, or see some dumb-asses on tv and I think, we're doomed! 

2 comments:

Des said...

It's great that you are starting to read the White Album. And I agree with you about how ignorant people can be. What is so frustrating is that the people who I know that are ignorant aren't bad people, they just don't know any better. That's what's frustrating. If those people broadened their perspective, then I think they would appreciate things so much more.

Anne said...

I probably shouldn't have bought it because a few days ago, I ordered We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, which includes The White Album. Oh well, it's a great edition.