Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unheard of

My hall has been decked.
My mantle is a bit minimalist and these images capture the full extent of holiday decorating. It's nothing bright and bowy, but the extraordinary thing is that the decorations exist and they are on display in November.
I'm not quite sure to what the world is coming.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In defense of fruitcake, brussels sprouts and basketweaving

My mother and several friends get together in early November each year to "fruitcake." The long process of making the toothsome concoctions begins with a raucous group effort of mixing nuts and fruits, followed by the slow baking and at least a month of ripening under wraps.
Other than that they have made a verb out of it, I see nothing more strange about fruitcaking than meeting to make holiday crafts or exchange cookies, yet when my mother excitedly tells others of her cooperative fruitcake making plans, she almost invariably receives a confused, "well, isn't that interesting" type reply, sometimes accompanied by a plea that the fruitcake not end up on his or her unsuspecting doorstep.
I love fruitcake. I don't get fruitcake jokes. Fruitcake would never stay around my place long enough to be tossed at the town park in January. Many of my friends have never tasted a fruitcake, much less received enough of them to regift them the next year (the good ones run $23-$60+ at Collin Street Bakery).
Why would one assume that one wouldn't like something made out of ingredients that one likes? And, even, if one genuinely didn't like fruitcake, why would one assume that other people can't stand something that clearly sells well at $40 a piece?
I don't get it. But then I am also a straight-A student who struggled in her basketweaving class (and yes, some of the time we were weaving underwater) and I convinced The Mister that he likes brussels sprouts well enough that he prepares them on a regular basis. I also like anchovy pizza.
Basketweaving is not easy. Brussels sprouts are not necessarily repulsive*. Some of us like fruitcake.
I wonder what I mock without knowing anything about it.
NASCAR? Corn dogs?

*I ate horrid over-boiled brussels sprouts covered with inordinate amounts of slimey fake butter at the cafeteria at my last institution. I had never had them before (I avoided school lunches growing up and my mom fixed fresh brussel sprouts) and at that point I realized why the Mister thought he hated them when we met.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We, the narrator

During the Reign of the Queen of Persia is narrated by a young girl in a small town in Ohio in the 1950s. Or her sister. Or her cousins. Possibly the cousins collectively. Possibly all four girls independently; I never could tell. The second page of Joan Chase's novel states, directly enough, "There were four of us then, two his daughters, two his nieces, all of born within two years of each other. Uncle Dan treated the four of us the very same," and then adds, "sometimes we thought we were the same-- same blood, same rights of inheritance."
Clearly, Chase doesn't want us to consider that narrator an individual. All four of the "we" are observed by the narrator. The narrator's not Cecelia, because "we were very conscious of Cecelia." The narrator can't be Jenny, because "we" watch her getting the easy spelling words while Neil saves the hard ones for "us", his daughters. Neil's daughters are Katie and Annie, but neither can be the narrator because "we're" afraid when "Katie and Annie" fight, but we leave them to it. Both of "our" mothers are called "Aunt" throughout. Aunt Grace is married to Neil and Aunt Libby is married to Uncle Dan. "We" just keep telling the story.
This unease about who is telling the story bugs me far more than it should. Apparently, I really appreciate knowing who is relating a personal story. I like to be able to judge the narrator's credibility based on his or her age, experience and bias of relationship to other characters. The indefinite "we" doesn't allow for such judgments.
The Jane Austen Book Club (read last year) used a similar structure. By the end I had to assume that "we", the first person plural narrator, was the club, and that a club could have snarky personal asides. A club with a first person plural personality makes some (very small quantity) of sense.
I finished During the Reign of the Queen of Persia without any good idea as to why Chase used the unusual voice or why she messed with the chronology and overall structure of the book so much. Perhaps the devices, along with the sad ending made DtRotQoP feel like a much weightier book than it really is. I'm not sure. Anyone read it?
Certainly, I have friends who would enjoy reading DtRotQoP, but I also can't think of anyone who should put forth great effort to track it down.

I'd like any thoughts about other works written in first person plural. In particular, other books in which all members of the collective are separately viewed in the third person, thus ruling them out as an individual choosing to represent the collective.