Saturday, May 23, 2015

Past inhabits present in the lives of 3 families (Books - The Turner House by Angela Flournoy; A Legacy by Sybille Bedford; & Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz)

Three family sagas are the subject of this post.  What I like about this form is the intertwining of the characters' narratives with a sense of place and time.  When it works well, I experience both the familiarity of people wanting, thinking and behaving, and the distance of an unfamiliar time and which gradually lessens, becoming more and more like my own. Sybille Bedford's A Legacy (Counterpoint, 1956, 1999) set in late 19th and early 20th century Germany, Naguib Mahfouz's  Palace Walk (Doubleday, 1956, 1990) set in early 20th century Cairo, and Angela Flournoy's accomplished debut The Turner House, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) set in past and present day Detroit.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Two formative men of the American Theatre (Books - A Life by Elia Kazan & Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr)

The life stories of two American Theatre makers monopolized my reading back in January: Elia Kazan: A Life, film and theatre director Kazan's hefty, probing memoir (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988) and Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (W.W. Norton & Co. 2014), John Lahr's deftly paced, thoroughly researched, deeply perceptive biography of the great playwright. Two men could not have had a greater influence on the structure and build of action, the feeling of innocence and epiphany, the rhapsodic music of text, the themes of individuality and of sex that were the coming-of-age of the American theatre and film in the 1930s - 1970s, than Williams and Kazan.  Two men could not have been more superficially different - Kazan was the son of Greek immigrants, born in Turkey, a scrappy fighter, and relentless womanizer, Williams a grandson of an American preacher, delicate, gay, a virgin until twenty-six years of age - but fundamentally they were remarkably similar. Aside from their obvious love of theatre, both seemed dissatisfied with the restrictions of their world, were driven to create theatre to give veiled expression to a deep sense of personal failure, both felt outsiders and compulsively pursued relief in work or, failing that, one from drink and the other from sex. John Lahr's quotes a letter from Williams to Kazan: