Philip Roth, Indignation (2008), 231p
“of the terrible, the incomprehensible way one’s most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result.”
Marcus Messner is the son of Jewish parents, a kosher butcher and his wife, in Newark, New Jersey. Messner is phonetically close to the German word for knife: ‘Messer’. The knife and cutting is a returning and central symbol in Indignation, Marcus dies by the bayonet, his father’s livelihood depends on his knife skills, Olivia Hutton has cut her wrist in an attempted suicide.
Another thread in the story is the indignation Marcus feels about having to attend mass 40 times as a requirement at Winesburg college. At Dean Caudwell’s office, he recites two full pages from Bertrand Russel’s “Why I am Not a Christian.” This theme is closed at the end of the book, with the White Panty Raid. The ‘Panty Raid‘ was a historic phenomenon that started in 1949 and lasted through the 1950s at American colleges. In 1971, a student uprising at Winesburg college resulted in the abolishment of the mass attendance requirement. Marcus Messner’s final doom is caused by this requirement and Ziegler’s proxying for him at the chapel.
‘Indignation’ is associated to ‘American Pastoral’ and ‘I married a Communist’ and has been called the ‘American Trilogy’ by Roth.
Mikhail Bulgakov, Morphine (1926), 55p
Bulgakov’s Morphine is a simple short story that uses his experience as a doctor and morphine addict in simple diary form. The most beautiful aspect of Morphine is the evidence of what a great short story requires, a genuine heartfelt compassion, the experience of real life, maybe the auto-biographical element sets the quality of any short story apart from a fantasy story. I’m a big fan of fictionalized auto-biographical material, Morphine proves why. The story reads easily in a day, without losing attention, as if it was written in equal amount of time.
Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment (2002), 188p
With the popularization of the literary markets, apparently an inevitable consequence of following a purist American theology of Capitalism, eliminating all public investments to balance the public good out of the equation of interest, it can be difficult to find elevating literary writers these days. I have almost completely stopped sifting through the may top ten lists, awards and nominations like the homeopathic New York Times best seller list, such a Mayan veil and scam of literature was never invented before, or the New Yorker with its blase short stories that fail to shock any man with a real taste for life. How can one take the American literary landscape every serious again, it’s worth a novel full of labyrinths.
But Elena Ferrante, if for a moment we consider this her real name, has the true spirit of an author, she feels enough has been done to a book once it has been written, once she has poured her confessions to paper and added an artificial construct to make it credible. Once in print, only the reader can add meaning to a story. I believe strongly that only out of such absence of vanity, out of such love for the imagination that reality is shunned, and certainly the false desire to be in the public spotlight, can bring forth any literature close to being worth reading.
One can place some remarks to the almost fantastical scene of the protagonist taking the ‘key’ into her mouth in order to ‘unlock’ the ‘door’. This is almost a childish mistake of heavy symbolism in a too easily recognizable form, but apart from this scene that sadly lasts for pages, the book remains true to credible fiction, and though she perhaps could dig deeper into her self and add more revealing reflections of her human soul, the book carries a reflective burden with it. Another point of criticism is that women tend to identify with being victimized too easily, and this book is no relief from it, not a very emancipated protagonist perhaps. It’s not how Marguerite Duras would have witnessed the story.
But nevertheless, Ferrante delivers a true novel of the human soul, and The Days of Abandonment is a mirror to many.
The New Yorker, Women on the Verge, The fiction of Elena Ferrante, by James Wood (21 January 2013)