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Sunday, February 9, 2014
THE AWAKENING...one of life's better soporifics
Rating: 1.5* of five, all for a few pleasantly turned descriptions
The Publisher Says: This story of a woman's struggle with oppressive social structures received much public contempt at its first release; put aside because of initial controversy, the novel gained popularity in the 1960s, some six decades after its first publication, and has since remained a favorite of many readers. Chopin's depiction of a married woman, bound to her family and with no way to assert a fulfilling life of her own, has become a foundation for feminism and a classic account of gender crises in the late Victorian era.
My Review: Tedious. Nothing at all worth calling a classic considered as a piece of writing; as a work of characterization; or in any way that I can discern.
Edna is awakened by her desire for a man not her husband? And this is a feminist classic? That she then sends away her children to live with her mother-in-law and waves a vaguely affectionate good-bye to her husband as he moves away for ~6 months vitiates any sense of conflict or in fact of what the hell this boring broad is on about when she rattles around New Orleans painting (well enough to sell her work) and conducting the most desultory possible affair with a man so louche that he's a by-word for bad boyish nonsense...and not one word of gossip, not one scintilla of contumely, not a scrap of opprobrium appears to attach itself to her?! IN NEW ORELANS?!
Folks, this is so incredible that I am gobsmacked. That's the gossipiest little burg in the Western world. People who don't know you know you there.Spend a week and there's some hear-tell about what you gettin' up to. Only tourists are anonymous, sort of, and that's pretty much a recent phenomenon.
Nothing outside tedious, bland Edna's direct view is allowed any reality; no character exists except as a bald description; the action is reported much as it would be in a telegram of old, or a tweet of today, stripped to mere outlines to make it fit in as few words as possible.
I've read worse books, much worse books in fact, but few that were so devoid of characterization. Why on earth anyone ever invested an erg of emotional energy in these silhouettes is beyond my ken. Pelletier, Edna's husband, does exactly nothing interesting and she herself feels no animosity towards him because she interacts with him not at all. How they came to have two children is beyond me. I suppose, in the indirect language of the time, she is shown to reject his sexual advances. So? Wives do that a lot. Especially then, before adequate birth control was available. He doesn't appear to make an issue of it, and she just...doesn't.
Her children are left to the nurse unless she breaks free of the fog of indifference shrouding her every action and perception. So? Do something, Kate Chopin, to show me what effect this has on two little boys! As it is they're pawns on the chaotic chess board of this book. Someone who watched a few games of chess and tried to emulate it without troubling to learn the rules or understand the conventions is the closest analogue I can find to the impression the book leaves with me.
Chopin read a few stories, then figured she'd write her own before understanding the demands of characterization, the need for motivations, the purpose of creating a setting...this is what I am left with. I've honestly never felt so at sea when reading a lauded classic as to why it attained the status. I detest Dickens' books, each and every one I've read, but I know why others love the verbose, tortured melodramas. Even Hemingway's pustulent, suppurating psychic wounds made for some moments of humor, and explained his enduring appeal to some people.
This? This has nothing that grand or that icksome to offer. It really offers next to nothing. It can't be hated, that's like hating seltzer water. I can't imagine a less captivating way to spend a snowy Sunday afternoon.