1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I have a beautiful copy of Wuthering Heights and I was anxious to read it. It was the only one of the three possibilities that Dad found at the library. It's funny to me now that I this was our book club choice.
Nicole: Why do you think Wuthering Heights is considered a classic?
Bob: I’m tempted to say, ‘I don’t have the slightest clue.’ But, that would be disingenuous. Perhaps there are readers who are caught up in the scope of the story, the glorious use of vocabulary, or perhaps it is the variation on the Romeo and Juliet theme that draws readers to it.
Rather than the Capulets and the Montegues, we have the Earnshaws of Wuthering Heights and the Lintons of Thrushcross Grange. Rather than a family feud, we have a racial/socio-economic subplot that, in and of itself should provide enough interest for any reader.
Well, this isn’t Shakespear.
For that reason, I lasted about 120 pages and packed it in. Reading the emotional swings – the rages, the tantrums, the emotional manipulations, the angst, the ‘seeing into the heart’ – all of it well done – was like attending a literary buffet where, as it turns out, there is only one option. It is a game of personal endurance that Brontë is playing with the reader. And Brontë won. Enough! It’s like trying to eat five pepperoni pizzas in one sitting. Why is this considered a classic? I just don’t know. And, after reading 120 pages, I don’t care.
Nicole: Yes. The tantrums were a deal-breaker for me. Well, not completely because I finished it. I think I dislike it more for finishing it. Also, I think Heathcliff is secretly black. In one of the more recent movie versions of the book he's played by a young black man. That makes the whole thing more interesting to me from a psychological point of view.
Bob: Did you see anything in Catherine that reminded you of yourself or someone you know?
Nicole: My knee-jerk reaction to that question is to wonder if you see me in Catherine, which would be embarrassing for me. She wasn't her father's favorite and I am, so I can't relate there... :) When she was younger and more interested in rough and tumble play with Heathcliff, I liked her a little bit and felt a small kinship. By the time she was married and being AWFUL to everyone, I was done with her. Done. She was acting like a six year-old girl when she was married and about to become a mother. I wanted her to step up and accept her choices and stop trying to manipulate everyone.
Which character bothered you the most and why?
Bob: I’m not sure there was a character who bothered me more than the rest, although at some point in time they all did. It was a style issue. Up until Brontë’s triumph in persuading me to disengage, I found myself completely turned off by the attempt at first-person narrative. Sometimes a main character might be the voice. But, more often than not is was a maid, someone who had been with the family for many years, the Mammy equivalent in Gone with the Wind. And this maid speaks in the most glorious phrases and with the widest of vocabularies. It seemed unlikely to me that a person of such standing in British society would possess skills of literary self-expression at the level attributed to her by the author. It was very distracting.
Perhaps Brontë is trying to help us see ourselves, unfiltered, unchecked, selfish to the core and interested in only having life our way. Every character is eventually boiled down to that common denominator. It would be interesting to see what she could produce if she only looked for the good in mankind. Finding fault is the least demanding of all intellectual exercises. Brontë showed that she can do it very well indeed.
Did you learn something about writing that would help you be a better writer?
Nicole: What you were just saying, yes - the point of view Bronte chose to use is by far the most distracting part of this book. A maid who remembers conversations from 20 years ago verbatim and who cares so deeply for these disturbed people who never seem to leave their houses. And she was speaking to a character who was writing down all her words in a letter to someone he knows? So, point of view is big. And I also think that every author makes a choice between heaven and hell - everything is about one or the other, right? Bronte chose hell and Wuthering Heights left me feeling hollow because of it. The story goes on for a second generation and ends up sort of happy, I guess. If happiness is being buried on top of the woman you "loved" who is buried by her husband. Weirdos.
I wanted to mention that there is physical violence against women and children in this book that shocked me a little bit. One time a young girl got her ears boxed by a grown man and Nelly the servant said she deserved it for being impudent or something like that. Um. I know I'm from the future, but that wasn't okay with me.
2. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
I listened to Susan Sarandon read this book. The Member of the Wedding takes place in just a few days in the life of Frances Jasmine Adams, "Frankie," a 12 year-old girl in...Mississippi? Rats. Somewhere in the south. Frankie's brother is getting married and Frankie is in that terrible spot - not a woman and not a kid anymore. She plays with her little cousin John Henry, but she also convinces herself that her older brother and his bride are going to take her with them on their honeymoon and then she will live with them.
Every thought, every movement, every word in this story is held up to a light and examined. I felt those emotions again - wishing people took me more seriously, wishing I was a beautiful grown-up woman - the emotions of a 12 year-old girl. Frankie walks downtown and tells every person she sees that she is going to be in the wedding. She is trying to make it real by talking about it. Of course she's not invited to the honeymoon and the scene where she's dragged kicking and screaming back to the train hurts. Frankie tries to run away from home, but fails at that too.
This book is so dense with beautiful description. Little John Henry was very real to me as well - he speaks the way a 6 year-old boys does. When I finished the book, I thought what McCullers was describing is that feeling of wanting to be a part of a family. Frankie is technically part of a family (her mother died and her father has recently not known how to interact with her now that she's older) and she has Berenice, the housekeeper. But Frankie is searching for that bond that makes us all feel like we belong somewhere. She's trying to tether herself to someone. It's devastating, but lovely to read.
3. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling
This was a book club pick for Bridget and me. Bridget could not wait to see what was going to happen next. Once she came home and said every kid playing at so-and-so's house had read further than she had and we had to catch up!
John Midas (get it? GET IT?) is a grade-school aged kid who loves candy, especially chocolate. He loves it so much that he tries to get out of eating any other kind of food. One day he finds a magical candy store and buys a box of chocolates. But it's just one chocolate in the box and after eating that chocolate everything that touches John's mouth turns into chocolate. Even his Mom. AHHHHHH!!!!!
I liked but didn't love this book. The scenes were kind of clipped off before they were over, somehow. The adults were a little too understanding and vaguely drawn. Maybe it was just me feeling manipulated into not eating candy? I don't know. Not love, though.