Friday, January 13, 2006


Sapphira and The Slave Girl, Willa Cather, Alfred A Knopf, 1940, 295pp

I believe this is Willa Cather's last novel. Sapphira is a southern white woman who married below herself socially and moved to the country. It is just before the Civil War began, they have slaves and the book is about that transitional time. Sapphira and her husband are dealing with the question of freeing slaves and wondering how those slaves will fare.

Overall it is a story of life, human strengths and foibles, joys and losses. Sapphira is a complex character as is the slave girl she becomes close to. Cather does it all very well.

Farewell My Lovely, Raymond Chandler, Alfred A Knopf, 1940, 275 pp

This is Chandler's second novel, the first being The Big Sleep. The genre is mystery/crime and the style is very noir. Philip Marlowe, private investigator, is tough and cynical with a soft center and continually puts himself in danger in order to solve the mystery. He seems to never sleep, has a weakness for women and whiskey but never over indulges. Chandler along with a handful of other writers created this genre which continues to proliferate on the popular fiction lists. But with Marlowe it is hard to tell what actually motivates him.

In my reading log I did not say anything about the plot and I find it interesting that I remember very little about it. I did note that the physical descriptions of people and places and the dialogue were very well done. And I think that is the main appeal of Chandler: the mood, the cynicism, the exposure of decay lying just beneath the glittering surface of Los Angeles, the odd connection between the very rich and the underworld.

The Bird in the Tree, Elizabeth Goudge, Coward-McCann, Inc, 1940

Elizabeth Goudge is one of my favorite authors and I have read all of her books. She was English and began publishing novels in the early 1930s. She is what I would call a Christian philosopher and all of her stories are informed by this, though she weaves it into her writing so seamlessly that you hardly notice. I first read her most well known novel, Green Dolphin Street, when I was a very young woman. It made such an impression on me that I've re-read it twice and you will read about it when I write about the books I read for 1944.

In this volume, a wonderful and wise aging woman saves her grandson from a disastrous marriage and thereby preserves family harmony. She does it with tact and grace but basically she holds an ethical line. She makes her decisions based on what will do the greatest amount of good for the most people, even though she knows that her grandson will experience heartache.

Reading Goudge for me is like therapy. It makes me believe in the goodness in myself and others, it brings calm when life in the modern world is confusing and rocky. When she describes the flowers and countryside of an English landscape you are there and I swear you can see the colors and smell the flowers.

The Hamlet, William Faulkner, Random House, Inc, 1940, 366 pp

I am gradually making my way through Faulkner. Before I began this reading project I had read two of his earlier novels. God, he is so dark. I usually have bad dreams when I am reading Faulkner. I've also read a fair amount of early Joyce Carol Oates and think that she must have been influenced by this writer.

The main character here is Flem Snopes, a true piece of work. He is a con artist and completely heartless. He comes into a small southern town with the chip he carries on his shoulder. You eventually learn where that came from, but meanwhile he covertly just takes over the town. I couldn't decide which was more disturbing: Snopes' evil ways or the apathy of the townspeople who let him get away with it. Yet there is also humor in this book and a kind of refusal to get that worried about an evil dude. It is almost as if there were a deep seated belief that the bad guy will get what is coming to him in the end and usually by his own doing, so why get all worked up about it.

Faulkner finally had a bestseller in 1962, after he had been publishing novels for over 30 years, but he was mostly way ahead of his time in subject matter and treatment of it. He was a little too real, too dark and I imagine the general American reading public simply could not confront it. On the other hand, I am not sure it is a good thing that we are now practically numb to that much violence, poverty and degradation.

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