29 October 2006


Going to see a play can be a hit or miss affair, but ShawChicago has always offered a consistently splendid theater experience. In spite of the fact that the performances we've seen have been staged readings rather than fully realized productions, the performers' talent and skill are so strong that we're totally absorbed.

Of course, the material--plays by George Bernard Shaw--makes a contribution as well.

Still, material isn't all. Yesterday we went to a production of Moliere's The Miser--fully staged, but so poorly executed that we left after the first act. Experiences like that always make me doubt my affection for theater.

This afternoon that affection was renewed. A marvelous performance of You Never Can Tell. These actors are just phenomenal.

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28 October 2006

My Life without Me

It seems to be weeping season. This was quite a wonderful movie, but I cried and cried.

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25 October 2006

Penelope Lively's The Photograph

I still remember how devastating Moon Tiger was, and I must have read it 20 years ago. Granted, I don't remember much else, except that it was devastating.

This novel was also devastating, it its way; as I read the last sections I was almost continuously in tears. Victor says, No more sad books for a while.

He suggests rereading The Hobbit.

I'm thinking more along the lines of Middlesex. But first, some magazine reading to catch up on...

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20 October 2006

Nicole Krauss' The History of Love

It's possible I read a more moving novel this year; but if I did, I can't remember it. This is a book I never wanted to put down, and when I was finished I went right back to the beginning and started again.


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16 October 2006

Operation Shylock

It's hard to know how to read this novel, which bills itself as "A Confession," purports to be true in its explanatory preface, and features characters named after Philip Roth, Claire Bloom, Aharon Applefeld, and other real people. You know it's fiction, so you want to avoid questions of what really happened, but the autobiographical manner and the recurrent references to real people and events make this difficult.

So when a doppelganger is introduced, you're feeling surprisingly credulous, and you're drawn into an outlandish story step by plausible step. Author Philip Roth has a double, also named Philip Roth (and representing himself to be the author), who is in Israel launching a movement to send its Jews back to Europe. In the process, Roth 2 has made an odd set of alliances—with Lech Walesa, the JDL, and the PLO. Roth 1, in Israel to interview the novelist Aharon Applefeld for the Times, confronts Roth 2, who refuses to desist. Outraged and bemused by turns, Roth 1 allows himself to be mistaken for Roth 2, and even actively impersonates Roth 2.

Adventures ensue.

The story ends with a big chunk missing, it is explained, for security reasons. On the endleaf, a standard disclaimer reminds you that the book is, after all, fiction.

An interesting, well-written novel, but rather unwieldy and exhausting. It's been a while since I've read any metafiction, so I guess I'm out of practice.

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Oryx and Crake

When a "serious" writer engages in science fiction, I'm not sure how to take it. Is science fiction being legitimized, or is the writer slumming?

In Margaret Atwood's case, the genre offers an opportunity to follow current trends to their logical (and deeply unpleasant) conclusions. With Oryx and Crake, she presents us with a fairly standard post-apocalyptic last-man-on-earth story: we get glimpses of the world-that-was (very similar to ours) in flashback and these hints highlight the way that world sowed the seeds of its own destruction.

All well and good; there is nothing in the story that is not compelling.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the story that is very complicated, either. Which seems a strange thing to say about this author, who, in books like Cat's Eye and The Blind Assassin, has shown herself capable of conveying enormous complications. It's as if the effort of creating a different and believable world has been so great that nothing's left for creating complex characters. Instead, the bad guys are bad, the nuts guys are nuts, the good guys might be confused, but they're good.

The result is an exceptional and thought-provoking science fiction story, not a great novel. The characters don't live, though their dilemmas do.

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