21 January 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire

Blanche DuBois has problems, to put it mildly. She has lost her beloved Mississippi plantation Belle Reve and is now forced to live in squalor in New Orleans' French Quarter with her younger sister Stella and Stella's brutal, animalistic husband Stanley Kowalski. The fragile Blanche, who has a tenuous grasp on reality as is, is determined to make her surroundings as refined as possible, though she soon learns that doing so while sharing living quarters with the uncouth Stanley is nearly impossible. Things soon degenerate as Blanche and Stanley become locked in a battle of wills against each other, with Stella trapped in the middle. Then, Stanley learns perhaps why his flighty, neurotic sister-in-law lost Belle Reve and is prepared to stop at nothing to gain the upper hand over her. And when I say stop nothing, I do mean nothing . . .

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite plays. Some of you may recall that back in 2009, I debated for a long time over whether or not to review this play or playwright Tennessee Williams' other masterpiece The Glass Menagerie. I ultimately decided on The Glass Menagerie, but I reread Streetcar for my American Lit 2 class last semester and SweetTart-Girl asked me if I'd do a review, seeing as she'll be studying it this semester in one of her classes. *Zella waves magic wand and grants wish because she fancies herself as a book genie* :D

This play is a masterpiece of dramatic tension, as Blanche and Stanley face off constantly over every petty scenario known to man. I think the tension rings true just because it is so realistic. Even if your family does get along well, who hasn't had a family argument turn nuclear over something inanely stupid? Despite Williams' effective use of tension, this play is still primarily a character-centric work, not plot-driven. All of the characters, except for maybe Blanche's potential love interest Mitch, are grotesque and troubled. It's hard to find one character to unequivocally root for, which is why I think some readers dislike the play. Even though Blanche is the main character and is quite pathetic, she's far from a traditional heroine. I like complex characters, so for me, the fact that there is no clear-cut good guy (though Williams clearly intends for us to sympathize with Blanche, even if we don't understand or agree with her) is a plus.

I am a hug fan of reading plays, but plays were still written with the intention of being performed. Soooo . . . your Streetcar experience will not be complete unless you watch the 1951 film version with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. You must watch this one! Brando originated the part of Stanley on stage. It's what made him contender! I am making you an offer you can't refuse! Who me? An obsessive Brando fan? Erm . . . maybe. (Bonus points if you recognized the two Brando quotes in this paragraph.) But the original film version is easily the best, if not just because all of the actors are so good. I will warn you that even though the film version stays remarkably close to the play, the ending was changed to appease movie censors, who demanded that the bleak tragedy had to have some redeeming value.
If you're looking for complex characters and an intense story line, definitely read A Streetcar Named Desire. This play is one of the most famous written in the past sixty years . . . and for good reason, in my opinion. Not to mention that reading it is the perfect excuse to indulge in a Brando marathon afterwards. ^^
Next Time: Art Spiegelman's Maus.
This Week in Literary History: 27 January 1302 Political enemies exile Dante Alighiere from Florence. Though this may have seemed like a bad thing for Dante at the time, his banishment ended up being a good thing for literary history, for he wrote his masterpiece The Divine Comedy during this period.
Announcements: I dole out some blogging awards on my second blog, so stop by. You may have an award waiting for you. :)

08 January 2011

The Green Mile

As the top prison guard on Louisiana's Cold Mountain Penitentiary's death row in the 1930s, Paul Edgecome saw some strange things . . . most of them disturbing, some of them amusing, and one thing that was amazing: John Coffey. Edgecombe initially has little sympathy for Coffey, a towering African American convicted of a horrible double murder. Truthfully, Edgecombe has little time to worry about Coffey. Between a painful medical condition and contending with a petulant well-connected colleague named Percy Whetmore, Edgecombe has enough to contend with. But then Edgecombe learns of Coffey's secret gift, a revelation that leads Edgecombe to suspect that the gentle giant is not at all guilty of the crime he was accused of committing. And that's when things get interesting. ^^

I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I had never read any Stephen King before reading The Green Mile. I know, I know. See . . . I have really enjoyed a lot of Stephen King movies and some of his essays on writing and wanted to read his books, but I never got around to it. Shortly before I left home a few months ago, I saw a copy of this book for sale at the library. I loved the film version of this story, so I reasoned the book would be just as good . . . if not better. And, indeed, for the most part, it was.

King builds an intriguing plot that delves into the nature of friendship and the realm of the supernatural in a manner that is haunting but not necessarily scary. Though I had watched the movie and was aware of the plot, King's story was so engrossing I was anxious and tense while reading it despite knowing what happens. Even more importantly, it's heartwarming in a creepy sort of way. If the end doesn't have you a little misty-eyed, there's something wrong with you. *dabs eyes* The cast is colorful and memorable. Edgecombe himself is a likeable protagonist, though he does get a bit overshadowed by the larger-than-life Coffey. Kudos to King for creating an absolutely heinous antagonist in Percy. I wanted to beat him with a rubber hose . . . repeatedly and with much malice.

My only problem is that since this is a novel set in the Depression-era Deep South, I was expecting more atmopshere from that period and era. Edgecombe's narration is compelling and engaging, but I never could shake the fact that the voice sounded like a moden middle-aged guy *looks at King* and not an elderly man reminsicing about his past. And, no offense to native New Englander King, but the narration also lacked a certain Southern quality, as well. Some of the dialogue and narration sounded off to my Southern ear. (Yes, I am petty. I am the Queen of Petty. Nay, I am the Empress of NitPicky and the Duchess of Overbearing Attention to Detail. Bow before me. ^^) This didn't detract seriously from the story, but as a reader who relishes atmosphere--and is passionate about Southern fiction--I didn't find the atmopshere convincing. That being said, the plot and characters more than made up for this.

The Green Mile is a bittersweet exploration of faith, fate, and sacrifice. The powerfully evocative plot is the main draw, but the complex characters also add to this superb novel. If you like supernatural fare that is not ghoulish, give this book a read. I definitely am adding more King to my reading list. Misery being next. ^^

Next week: Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire
This Week in Literary History:

12 January 1876: American writer Jack London is born. Most people are familiar with London's gritty, naturalistic survival novels set in Alaska, specifically White Fang--which I am going to reread in one of my American lit classes this semester--and Call of the Wild, but I highly recommend his, ahem, chilling short story "To Build A Fire." I dare you to read it and not feel bone-numbingly cold afterward. :D