Saturday, December 27, 2014
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Kino is a diver looking for pearls. Pearl diving is how he provides for his family, just like his father before him and his father’s father. He lives in a brush house away from the town with his wife Juana and their son Coyotito. When Coyotito is bitten by a scorpion Juana prays for a way for them to pay the doctor to heal their only child. When Kino dives that day he finds a pearl the size of a sea gull’s egg. The people in the brush houses refer to it as the “Pearl of the World” and can only imagine the fortune that will come to Kino and his family. But the pearl doesn’t bring the fortune Kino had hoped. It brings greed, suspicion and betrayal.
Based on a Mexican folk tale The Pearl is simple and precise in its delivery. In less than one hundred pages Steinbeck produces a novel that highlights many different aspects of human nature, examining each briefly and thoroughly. He questioned the faith of Kino and his wife while faced with the unimaginable fear of losing their child. Steinbeck exposed the motivations of those in the town who tried desperately to hide their greed. He highlighted how comradery can change based on circumstances when detailing the relationship between those that lived in the brush houses. Steinbeck dissected a small society to see how change ripples through a community and how each ripple affects everyone.
John Steinbeck’s The Pearl was amazing. All that glitters isn’t gold and sometimes the life you imagine because of miraculous luck can destroy you. So that’s slightly dramatic but it’s also partly true. Kino was such a genuine character whose struggles were real and from the beginning I felt his pain and was rooting for him to make it through while many of the characters worked tirelessly to retrieve the pearl for their own gain. I cannot stress how simple this story is, how much emotion it entails and how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. I give it 5 out of 5 stars. It is short, to the point, and will have you questioning your moral compass and hopefully correcting it.
Monday, December 15, 2014
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Esther Greenwood thought she was on the right path in life. She was given a scholarship to attend a university and was enrolled in their honors program. She won a fashion magazine contest and was given a job in New York as a prize with all expenses paid. During her time in New York she was given the opportunity to meet famous people from many different walks of life and attend shows while in the city. Yet she was extremely unhappy. She returned home and attempted to kill herself. From there she received a ticket to a mental institution, undergoing shock treatments and therapy. She was stuck under the bell jar and saw no way out of the enclosure she was trapped in.
The Bell Jar is an examination of the life of a woman being crushed by her own indecisions and the expectations she felt were pressed upon her. Would Esther ever marry? She didn’t know for sure but she doubted it. She wanted too much for herself but what she could no longer say. At one point she had known. At one point she wanted to be successful at school, at being an author, at life. But now she wasn’t sure what that meant or what to do. Her experience in New York changed many things, especially her perspective on life. The idea of what her life would be seemingly collapsed and when she returned home she failed to collect the pieces of her old self.
This novel as a whole is enjoyable and relays quite well how intense pressure can fracture a person’s state of mind. The problem lies in Esther as the narrator because she is unreliable and vague. I completely understand the idea of our protagonist undergoing a mental psychotic breakdown and the intense narration that took place but I still want to understand what was going on. There were moments throughout where more detail was necessary. Was this novel interesting? Yes, extremely so. It honestly felt like the encapsulation of a quarter life crisis. Now we would recognize it for that, an expression of doubt in oneself at the moment before our assumed goals were reached. Here, for our nineteen year old Esther, it was that and much more. She was expected to want a family and sacrifice her career for that. That wasn’t in her plans. But when the idea she had was crushing her she didn’t know what to do.
Now this book covered a wide variety of topics including sex, suicide and drinking. It has been challenged multiple times because of those topics since its release in 1963. It was prohibited in 1978 in Warsaw schools in Indiana. It was challenged in Edwardsville, Illinois in 1981 because of the sex mentioned and because it advocated an “objectionable” way of life, which I’m assuming was Esther’s feelings toward never getting married and having children. In 1988 it was challenged again in Richland High in Washington for including suicide and a hopeless sense of life. Everyone is not going to have Esther’s experience but I’m sure others will look at this book and feel a certain kinship with her because they too feel trapped under a bell jar. While a fiction novel, it touches on very realistic issues and should be available for everyone.
Banned Books Resource Guide (2014 ed.) by Robert P. Doyle, published by ALA.
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Maleficent adapted by Elizabeth Rudnick
Maleficent was born in a time of great trouble in the Moors. The faeries were once again at war with King Henry, a human intent on stealing away the precious land from the faeries. Hermia and Lysander, Maleficent’s parents believed that there were good humans that could be trusted and who loved the land as much as the faeries. They lost their lives in the fight to protect the Moors, leaving their only child to be raised by those who lived in the Moors. Grow she would into a beautiful faerie with strong wings like her mother and piercing green eyes like her father. Maleficent also held the same faith as her parents that there had to be good humans in the world. Stefan would be the embodiment of that hope. Stefan and Maleficent became friends as children and their friendship grew and blossomed. Then Stefan betrayed Maleficent taking from her not only her wings but the faith she had in humans. One act of betrayal changed the heart of Maleficent and the fate of a kingdom.
Oh, Maleficent. How much do I love thee? Let me the count the ways! I have been obsessed with Maleficent ever since I was a little girl. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it but there you go. I was at the movie theatre, filled with anticipation to see Angelina Jolie (who I also adore) playing out this evil faerie on the big screen. “I want to know more” I almost screamed and I was not disappointed. It was a completely different outlook on the classic Sleeping Beauty with the focus being on the destructive relationship between Maleficent and Stefan, explaining why she bestowed such a “gift” on the child Aurora. I left the theatre elated. It wasn’t until later that I knew a novelization of the movie was made and in my greed I purchased Maleficent, Rudnick’s adaptation of the movie.
Let me start by explaining that the book itself is beautiful. The hardcover (pictured above) is black with black lining on the pages. The cover shows Maleficent turned towards the reader, green eyes glaring with horns blaringly obvious. It is full of the stereotype that is the dark and mysterious persona of Maleficent. The novel itself was well written and best of all full of emotion. The emotion behind some of the more moving parts of the movie were vividly expressed with the pages. I will say the novel was a lot darker than I expected after seeing the movie, which at times was full of grandiose effects that screamed “I am a Disney movie!” Rudnick allowed the emotion of the characters and their predicaments drive the plot instead of adding details that would reflect the movies special effects. I only wish the novel had ended better. It felt rushed. More could have been said about the lives of the characters. But it is me and I may always want more from the story of Maleficent.
So where does Maleficent rate? I give it 4 out of 5 stars. If you love retellings of fairy tales then this is the novel for you. Well written, well developed and easy to read I expect many to want to fall into Maleficent’s story of loss, revenge and ultimately understanding and (dare I say it) love.