Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cathedral : Raymond Carver

Cathedral
Raymond Carver

I had read somewhere on the web that Raymond Carver is apparently one of Haruki Murakami's favorite authors, so much so that the title of Murakami's book/memoir What I talk about when I talk about running, was inspired by Raymond Carver's book title What We Talk About When We Talk about Love. I'm always curious to see who influences my favorite "artist's family trees," so I decided to check out Carver's Cathedral, a collection of his short stories.

While on the most part, the short stories were mostly about disappointments and were kind of depressing, I rather enjoyed them. These short stories describe everyday men and women and the issues they face, such as a father's feelings before a reunion with an estranged son or a woman's perspective on her husband after he has been laid off. Carver sticks to a very realism-based tone, only describing what's going on in the scene and what the protagonist is thinking, unlike Murakami, who frequently departs into the abstract and surreal. It's never overtly stated, but these stories focus on American characters.

It was interesting reading one story after another, as each story has such a distinct situation and accompanying set of feelings. On some level, it seemed like Carver understood the different levers of disappointment, sadness, and embarassment and was methodically going through situations that covered each distinct permutation.

These feelings aren't ones that I think about on a daily occurrence either. Rather, these are thoughts and feelings that fade into your subconsciousness and I think subtly shape your personality and outlook on life.

Anyways, I recommend this little book of short stories.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Million Little Pieces : James Frey

Million Little Pieces
James Frey

This memoir got a bit of negative publicity a few years ago, after The Smoking Gun uncovered some falsehoods about events in the book and Oprah denouncing Frey, after she had selected the book for her book club. (Wikipedia has the whole story)

My first reaction after finishing this memoir was that it read like fiction or at least a guy's sugared-up version of his life. All of the characters just came across as 1-dimensional movie characters, each with their differing motivations. The whole time I was thinking that it was blend of a more-mature version of Catcher in the Rye (the whole smart protagonist-angry-at-the-world thing) and the movie version of Girl, Interrupted (glossification of mental issues).

And umm, maybe I've the advantage of perspective, but I don't get the outrage. Seriously, this dude was in rehab for some hard-core drugs and alcohol abuse. Do you really expect him to have the discipline for memoir truth?

So I read this with the perspective that it was fiction. And I would say that I might recommend this to say college age readers, folks who have matured beyond Catcher in the Rye and who would benefit from reading a sugar-coated storyline of how badly drugs can mess you up. But for me, I just didn't get very much out of it. I enjoyed certain parts - his interactions with his parents, his descriptions of his pain (cringe-inducing in parts) and his love story. But in the end, it just felt like a somewhat generic movie that I'll forget about soon afterward.