Sunday, February 12, 2012

a sky is so small

Aside from being a total fox, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, or just Colette as she is known, was an amazing writer. I first read My Mother's House and Sido and just wanted to curl up in this world with these beautiful french provincial characters. There is not a whole lot going on plot wise in these stories, the main thrust is characters. As I am a seriously character-driven reader, I adored her writing. I scoped out the local Half-Price books and found her collection of short stories, The Tender Shoot, and dove in.

The first of the short stories, "Belle-Vista",  follows Colette at a provincial hotel as she waits for her house to be worked on by contractors. The hotel is run by a lesbian couple that befriends Colette. They have another guest, a man named M. Daste, who provides special intrigue for Colette. 

"If I observed M. Daste more carefully than he deserved, it was because I am always terrified, when chance throws me among unknown people, of discovering some monstrosity in them. I search them to the core with a sharp, distasteful eye as one does a dressing-table drawer in a hotel bedroom. No old dressings? No hair-pins, no broken buttons, no crumbs of tobacco? Then I breath again and do not give it a second thought."

The second short stories is "Gribiche". Colette spent some time in theatre productions and ran into many interesting characters there. Gribiche was a young woman who worked there and had an acident. While bringing flowers and a collection of money for her, it becomes apparent that Gribiche is having an abortion aided by her mother (who does this for a living) and no doctor's aid. This is a great example on how unsafe abortions can be when they are no provided by trained medical professional and I will give you two guesses as to how young Gribiche fares. 

"These memories are distant, but precise. they rise out of the fog that inevitably drowns the long days of that particular time, the monotonous amusements of dress rehearsals and suppers at Pousset's, my alternations between animal gaiety and confused unhappiness, the split in my nature between a wild, frightened creature and one with a vast capacity for illusion. But it is a fog that leaves the faces of my friends intact and shinning clear."  - "The Kepi"

"The Rendezvous" is a story that does not have Colette as a character but rather follows a group of four on a vacation. One of the men and woman ,Bernard and Rose, are in a covert affair and arrange to met at night through meaningful looks. However when they reach the meeting point, a young man who was their guide earlier is there bleeding profusely. Bernard wants Rose to run back for help while he stops the bleeding but Rose is appaled by the fact that people will know she was out there with him and what a scandal that will be to her family. This causes Bernard to see her in a new light and he is left with the decision to help a man he does not know who is bleeding to death or to escort the woman he loves back to the hotel. 

I am going to skip a few short stories in this collection, not because I did not love them, but because I don't want this blog post to be to long to handle. "Rainy Moon" is a beautiful story about Colette interacting with two sisters who live in the house that she used to live in. One of these sisters is going through a severe breakdown and the other thinks she is using sorcery to kill her estranged husband.  In "Green Sealing Wax" we get another slice of Colette's parents and I just adore Sido and was so happy to see her again. The last two stories, "The Sick Child" and "The Photographer's Missus", both compliment each other well I think. In both we get a inside glimpse into two people who are eager for death and come face-to-face with it. 

"'What do you expect?' said my mother. 'She's an old maid.'
'But Mamma, she's married!'
'Do you really imagine,' retorted Sido acidly, 'people stop being old maids for a little thing like that?'

I really, really enjoyed this book and cannot wait to read more of Colette. Apparently she is best know for her work Gigi which was taken and turned to a play and musical, so I think I need to check that out. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I could lift it alright

I have never seen or read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but I knew that it was one of those classics and frankly after drowning myself in a lot of science fiction I threw this little paperback in my bag and tore through it.

The book takes place in the 1960's in mental institution. We see this world threw the eyes of Chief Bromden, a Native American who is a giant of a man and yet pretends to be deaf and mute to get through life in this institution ruled by Nurse Ratched, who is a horrible as her name sounds. A new, and presumably mentally stable, man named McMurphy comes into the ward and proceeds to turn things on it's head. He fights against the system, and yet the deck is so stacked against him that we know he will not succeed.

"He's shown us what a little bravado and courage could accomplish, and we thought he'd taught us how to use it. All the way to the coast we had fun pretending to be brave. When people at a stop light would stare at us and our green uniforms we'd do just like he did, sit up straight and strong and tough-looking and put a big grin on our face and stare straight back at them till their motors died and their windows sunstreaked and they were left sitting when the light changed, upset bad by what a tough bunch of monkeys was just now not three feet from them, and help nowhere in sight."

Bromden sees society as a great Combine that chews up those that do not function as "normal" people. Through him we see the way that other patients were unable to fit due to a myriad of issues and who have their spirits raised and dashed by the coming of McMurphy. McMurphy uses them at the same time tries to help them, and although his motives seem to be almost all selfish, he does seem to be working for the good of those on the ward. In the end McMurphy cannot escape the Combine now that he is in the ward anymore than the rest of them can.

"Yes. This is what I know. The ward is a factory for the Combine. It's fixing up the mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches, the hospital is.When a complete product goes back out into society, all fixed up and good as new, better than new sometimes, it brings joy to the Big Nurse's heart; something that came in all twisted different is now a functioning adjusted component, a credit to the whole outfit and a marvel to behold."

I really, really enjoyed this book. I think that I like most books about how society treats those that are mentally unbalanced (the Bell Jar, Girl, Interrupted, Fingersmith, and others) and this one had me right there with the patients. Nurse Ratched is so realistic that she could be prowling the wards today, albeit she would have to use much more tact to not get caught condoning orderlies raping patients. The lack of control of the patients and the absolute tyranny of the staff makes for a fascinating and terrifying environment.

There is a reason this book is on lists of great books. I highly suggest it. I really want to check the movie out and see how it compares up. Has anyone seen it?