Friday, January 24, 2014

All My Sons, by Arthur Miller - book review

My rating : 4/5
Riveting drama from a master playwright.
This is a play about loyalty, about belonging, about morality and ethics. The complexity of the bonds between two families the Kellers and the Deevers is exposed when Annie, the Deevers' daughter, comes to spend the weekend with the Kellers. She was previously attached to Larry, a son that the Kellers lost in the war and can't mourn because they refuse to acknowledge his death. However, Chris, Larry's brother, has formed an attachment with Annie and intends to propose to her that weekend, thus forcing his mother to accept that Larry won't be coming back. 
It seems that postponed grief is the only thing keeping Annie and Chris apart, until a deeper, darker secret surfaces, brought to light by Annie's own brother, coming from the prison where their father is wasting away, paying the price for a crime that implicated the elder Keller, Joe.
The relationship between the Kellers and the Deevers was never that of equals. Though they were neighbors and the children grew up together, Joe Keller was Steve Deever's boss. Something happened during the war, a decision was made, Steve went to jail and Joe didn't. The proximity of the neighborhood came undone, as the neighbors reminiscences attest to. Mother Keeler insists on seeing the children as hers, and her wish to see them escape the sins of the parents is predictably vain.
Reading this play is like watching a bomb explode in slow motion, watching the collisions happen with years' delay, spraying human bits away from the explosions' center.

Here's the great foreshadowing:

Ann: You’re the only one I know who loves his parents. 
Chris: I know. It went out of style, didn’t it?
Ann: (with a sudden touch of sadness) It’s all right. It’s a good thing. (She looks about) You know? It’s lovely here. The air is sweet.

 Any play implicating multiple generations, of course, will hinge on heritage and innocence lost. Parents show their children how to be adults in the end by demonstrating the opposite of what they always taught them to respect in moral terms. This is eloquently voiced by their neighbor Jim:
[...], he’ll come back. We all come back, Kate. These private little revolutions always die. The compromise is always made. In a peculiar way. Frank is right… every man does have a star. The star of one’s honesty. And you spend your life groping for it, but once it’s out it never lights again. I don’t think he went very far. He probably just wanted to be alone to watch his star go out.

From a historical perspective, the play is imbued with an attachment to the codes of the period that strongly speak to post-war sentiment. It's doubtful that the same characters would attach the same importance to family honor and loyalty to one's country and laws today, but it doesn't take anything away from the play's power.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On Writing, by Stephen King’s - book review

Read 15/01/2014

My rating: 4/5

This book is a collection of things. First, it’s a biography, recounting his early years with the theme of the burgeoning writer. Having read quite a few of his novels, I was surprised and delighted to find hints and indications, every few pages, of the experiences that translated into the novel ideas that I recognized from his lengthy and prolific production. For instance, he mentions getting locked in a closet, I think of Carrie. He mentions being worried of losing a limb to industrial machinery in a mill, I think of Night Shift. And so on.

He takes us up to the period of his twenties, then to his getting his first novel published (Carrie), and the book shifts to describing his writing process. I suppose that, to grant any authority to the “writer’s toolbox” that he proposes and recommends that the fledgling writer should build, one would have to first admire his work. However, even without being a fan of the horror genre that he molded and developed, you’d have to acknowledge the beauty of the way he presents his craft, touching only lightly on literary theory and insisting instead on a few core concepts that are required to deliver effective storytelling.

Whether or not one wishes to write fiction, this read is very compelling. It’s Stephen King, he makes you suspend disbelief with disarming (alarming ?) ease, he takes you into his study, sits you down by his side and chats away in a friendly voice about what it is he’s doing.

And then, suddenly, he is broken by a brutal car accident, his leg smashed, his lung collapsed. Stephen King-ish, is it not ? It serves a definite, practical purpose though, because after suffering the accident, he can’t write for a while. Getting back to it, rebuilding the writing habit and describing it in the last part of this book, is a way of putting into practice the process he proposed earlier in it, by placing himself once again in the position of the novice.

I like that writers such as King still think of writing as a craft. I fear that the day will come when writing will be governed by some all-pervasive theory, when writers will no longer be craftsmen but rather architects, and readers will appreciate the conceptual acrobatics of the novel and ignore its gritty foundations. That’s why I also like that a writer such as Stephen King wrote this book. While reading it, I felt like he was reassuring me, that all the shock and excitement I felt when reading so many other of his books was no accident, that a lot of work went into building those dark universes that appeared so effortlessly haunting, and that so many more universes remain to be discovered and developed.