I’m trying to be more assertive in my, dear God, blogging. Blogging is not writing, I tell myself. Writing is a slow, deliberative and reflective process. Blogging has pictures. I also changed the “theme” to something with smudgy spots on it to give my blog a workman-like feel. “He probably dashed this off on the back of a napkin while drinking coffee in a greasy spoon in Brooklyn around midnight,” it seems to say. Informal yet vital. Dynamic.
Here’s my latest book report: The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand. You’ll remember how I waxed lyrical about Mr. Marquand in an earlier post. My judgment stands, although I’m not sure I’m quite as rapturous about this book. This is my failing, though, not the author’s.
First of all, a pithy description of the content: http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2004/10/31/the_great_george_apley
The structure of the book – a biographical sketch of Mr. Apley gleaned from his letters and other writings – mirrors the intricate and self-referential society in which both the narrator and his subject lived. It’s immensely subtle. In order to understand the emotions of the actors, the reader has to navigate past the absolute certitude of the reserved, sometimes pompous biographer as well as the restrained expressions of remorse and doubt in the letters of the primary actors themselves. If you take the text at face value, it is a rather dry and slightly insufferable description of a boring man.
[A brief pause while I shovel the driveway, go sledding, eat pizza, drink beer, drink wine, start watching Bladerunner, fall asleep, wake up, go to bed, wake up, eat breakfast, look for pieces to an Erector set, and walk the dog. The parent who wishes to indulge in extra-curricular activities must be highly adaptable to evolving situations]
But assume that Marquand is being gently ironic and the story unfolds like an origami flower. There is a series of intricate relationships alluded to between George Apley and his friends and relations, between the narrator and George Apley, between the narrator and Apley’s surviving family members, and between the narrator and the reader. I love that Marquand respects the reader enough that he needs make nothing explicit; he either trusts us to get the underlying humor and pathos or he doesn’t care whether we do or not, both commendable attitudes in an author. It also pleases me to no end, for pretty much the same reasons, that Marquand received the Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley.
In my literary meanderings, I often run across an author or particular work and act like I’m the first one ever to set eyes on this wonderous creation delivered from on high accompanied by heavenly choirs. And now I’m doing it again. Robert Frost, did you know he was, like, a really good poet? And he wrote all about, get this, New England! Well, here’s a poem by Frost that apparently everybody knows and loves. Why the hell didn’t you tell me?
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question “Whither?”
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?