Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Shakespeare”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #103: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

I saw the movie “Mystic River” quite a few years ago, and remember it being dark, painfully tragic and brilliantly acted. Now, having read quite a few of Lehane’s novels and enjoyed every one of them, I picked up Mystic River the book at my library, and got blown away all over again. Lehane takes a murder mystery and wraps it in a study of human psychology that is truly Shakespearean in scope.

It starts with an horrific childhood trauma: three 11-year-old boys are squabbling in the rough streets of Boston, when a cop car pulls up and orders the kids into the car to “teach them a lesson” about fighting in the streets. Only they are not cops, and while Jimmy and Sean recognize something isn’t quite right and refuse to get in the car, the fearful Davey does. He escapes from his abductors four days later, but none of the three escapes unscathed from the incident. The guilt-ridden Sean grows up into a cop with a broken marriage, Jimmy hones his street smarts into becoming a criminal legend, and the severely-damaged Dave carries around “the Boy Who Escaped From Wolves” in his head while trying to be a good family man.

They’ve gone their separate ways, but Sean, Jimmy and Dave cross paths tragically when Jimmy’s lovely 19-year-old daughter is beaten to death on the eve of her secret elopement. Sean must investigate a murder which brings him face-to-face with his childhood fears, Jimmy must decide whether to return to the coldblooded past he had shunned for his family’s sake, and Dave encounters his “Wolf.” But Lehane doesn’t stop there. He gives us Jimmy’s wife Annabeth, a stoic and strong-willed woman who is sister to a vicious clan of thugs and Jimmy’s “foundation,” and Dave’s wife Celeste, a cousin to Annabeth whose fear of the encroaching world and its attendant horrors undoes her.

As much a novel about the flaws that challenge us and make us human as it is about the city of Boston in which Lehane grew up and sets all his novels, Mystic River is a tour de force. As one reviewer put it so succinctly, “The lines between guilt and innocence, loyalty and treachery, justice and brutality are perpetually being smudged and redrawn,” forcing one to look inward and test oneself against the moral ambiguities in today’s world. Without giving anything away, I will say that the very end of the novel was deeply disturbing—as it was meant to be—and clinched Lehane’s brilliance for me.

Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Review #7: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

I wanted to read William Shakespeare’s the Taming of the Shrew for a few reasons. Most importantly, it was to see if I could still cope with the text and thus prove my degree in English Lit/Drama is still in here somewhere. But I also chose it for its famous sexism/misogyny, to see how it came across to my middle-aged feminist eyes. I knew the plot, so I’d have no trouble understanding what was going on (or so I thought). Moreover, I have seen two live productions of the play and one of them made an indelible impression on me. It was in 1987 at the Stratford Festival (Ontario) with Goldie Semple as Kate and Colm Feore as Petruchio. When reading the play this week , I could still remember some of their interplay and reactions. It was a truly magnificent production. (I’ve also seen a filmed version with John Cleese of all people, and he was the best thing in it and the one who made the language most accessible.)

For the uninitiated, and how is that even possible, The Taming of the Shrew is the story of Baptista, a man with 2 daughters, both alike in dignity, but dissimilar in temperament, in fair Padua where we lay our scene. Katherina/Kate is the eldest, difficult and irascible; his youngest, Bianca, is a fair and delicate creature beloved by all the men she meets. Baptista is unwilling to let Bianca marry until Kate is herself settled. The ensuing hijinks focus around each sister: Bianca has a number of suitors performing a number of ruses to secure her hand. Kate is “taken on” by Petruchio as a challenge, and a wife, to allow Bianca’s suitors a chance gain their own ends. Petruchio proceeds to comically break Kate’s spirit rendering her a sweet, compliant, and therefore “happy”, wife.

As I started to read, I recalled, possibly incorrectly, that the modern aprroach to the play is to have Kate and Petruchio fall in love at first sight to lessen the sting of the abuse she endures and the obedient wife tropes she eventually spouts. If they are evenly-matched, and Petruchio’s efforts are ultimately well-intentioned to bypass the protective wall Kate has built around herself, it somehow makes it less awful when she is deprived of sleep, and food, and rational treatment. He is capricious in his behaviour to everyone he meets, and I don’t know it that helps exactly, but at least Petruchio is consistent. And Kate is a bit of a pill. They are indeed evenly-matched, if romance is a cage match, and in this case it is.

There was an irrelevant framing device that can be either included or omitted from the play. Its only use to me was as a starting point to accustom myself to the language, a task that would have been simpler, if fewer of the names were Somethingio. As I forged ahead, I knew I was going to be okay when I laughed out loud at this line –

PETRUCHIO: And you, good sir! Pray, have you not a daughter
Call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?
BAPTISTA: I have a daughter, sir, call’d Katherina.

Some of the idiomatic language was lost on me, but I don’t think it undercut the overall effect of the play and, should I continue reading Shakespeare, I suspect that long dormant parts of my vocabulary will rally to the fore. Being a Shakespeare comedy (and from what I remember based on the story structures of ancient Roman plays which were later also used by P.G. Wodehouse) everyone is pretending to be someone else and trading places. The Bianca plot was actually the most challenging with all of those Somethingios to-ing, and fro-ing and woo-ing simultaneously. Had I been watching the play, which is, after all, the point, it would have been a lot easier to follow.

ElCicco#CBR4Review#11: The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown

This is a contemporary story of the Andreas Sisters, Rose (Rosalind), Bean (Bianca) and Cordy (Cordelia) who return home to bucolic Barnwell, Ohio, when they learn that their mother has cancer. Their father, Professor Jim Andreas of Barnwell College, is a famous Shakespeare authority, and he and his girls quote the Bard liberally. Frankly, Shakespeare-quoting characters don’t really interest me much and too much recitation of Shakespeare’s lines can become tedious, but in this story, Eleanor Brown hits the right note. Shakespeare’s words are a thread throughout the story, but it is the lives of the sisters that provide the meat, and they are talented, funny, annoying and tormented each in turn.

Rose, as eldest, fits the bill as first born — an over-achiever who is uber-responsible and seems to think it’s her job to take care of the family. The problem is that Rose, now a college math professor engaged to another professor, is almost paralyzed by fear of branching out, taking risks and trying new things. Rose must decide between staying with the familiar or going with her fiance to London where he has been offered a research position.

Bianca on the other hand, has dreamed since youth of leaving their boring college town for New York. Her goal in life has been to stand out, even if that means garnering negative attention for herself. Bean lives her dream life in New York for a while, wearing fine clothes, having drinks with investment bankers and so on, but she accomplishes this by embezzling from her employer. The note from her father about her mother’s illness comes at just the right time for Bean to get out of town and try to figure out how to fix the mess she has created.

Cordy was the first sister to leave Barnwell, having left before finishing her degree and hitting the road to follow hippie bands, live in flophouses, work sporadically, and ultimately, become pregnant, which she discovers shortly before getting word of her mother’s illness. Cordy struggles with the desire to live a free life on the road and the desire to keep her baby and be a good mother, which she understands requires a more stable lifestyle. While her reputation in the family is as the very loved but irresponsible baby, Cordy demonstrates a kindness and sensibility that proves this wrong.

What I like: the depiction of cancer and the way it ravages the body; the humor in the relationship among the sisters and with their parents; the presentation of internal struggles for each sister. While their faults are obvious, each is quite likable. Bean’s internal conflict is especially interesting as it involves financial and moral transgressions.  Each has to be brave enough to challenge herself and leave the comfort zone in the end. And for the most part, all’s well that ends well in The Weird Sisters. Pure entertainment with Shakespeare sprinkles on top.

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