In my post last week I said that “Maybe I’ll summarize everything or I’ll focus on one book…” and here we are at the first summarize everything post. There’s not as much to talk about this week as I think there might be in weeks to come. That’s mostly due to one book, but that’ll be the last bit of reading I’ll talk about.
The Kiss by Anton Chekhov
In ‘The Kiss’ by Anton Chekhov several military officers are invited to an aristocrat’s house at night to partake in a party. The military officers are worried about going to the party because they recently experienced a similar situation where a rich old dude kept them up all night talking about boring stuff. But this party turns out to be a lot better than that experience. There are women, dancing and drinks at this party which creates an awkward situation for one soldier in particular named Ryabovich. For every other soldier, this is seemingly not an awkward situation. Ryabovich is decribed as shy, modest and undistinguished in comparison to his fellow soldiers.
Ryabovich enters a dark room where he is kissed by a woman who mistakes Ryabovich for another man. This accidental kiss has a profound effect on Ryabovich. In the days following the party, he thinks about the kiss constantly and it gives him something nice to think about while going through the day-to-day of a soldier’s routine.
Summary copied from Short Fiction Daily
I don’t think I like Chekhov. It’s a scandalous take. After reading this short story, I called my friend Scott Miller and talked to him about it. This wasn’t my first encounter with Chekhov–I’d seen Ivanov at St. Louis Actors’ Studio about five years ago.
“His writing seems stuck in a state of perpetual existential ennui,” I said to Scott. He then told me that Chekhov’s are apparently comedies so maybe I just don’t get Russian humor…
I do like the premise of “The Kiss.” Ryabovich, our main character who is described as “…a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx’s…seemed to say: ‘I am the shyest, most modest, and most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade!'” It is this man, a very ordinary and apparently very bland person, who walks into a darkened room and is given a kiss not meant for him. For the next three months, Ryabovich obsesses over this moment, constructing a fantasy about the mysterious woman in the dark room. He even goes as far as imagining marriage and home-ownership and children with a fantasy!
It’s creepy, but it’s a well-intentioned warning. We mustn’t let ourselves become so caught up in what may be, in what could be, that we stray away from what it is.
The Zoo Story by Edward Albee
A man (Peter) sits peacefully reading in the sunlight in Central Park. There enters a second man (Jerry). He is a young, unkempt and undisciplined vagrant where the first is neat, ordered, well-to-do and conventional. The vagrant is a soul in torture and rebellion. He longs to communicate so fiercely that he frightens and repels his listener. He is a man drained of all hope who, in his passion for company, seeks to drain his companion. With provocative humor and unrelenting suspense, the young savage slowly, but relentlessly, brings his victim down to his own atavistic level as he relates a story about his visit to the zoo.
Summary copied from Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
I loved this play even as I’m sure I don’t fully understand it. Some analyses online said it explored themes of social isolation and materialism. I can see that. For me, though, it is simply fascinating, and as a producer, director, and actor I can fully see the action of this play in my mind’s eye.
Jerry is intriguing to me. I read him as severely depressed, possibly manic. His way of looking at the world is so analytical it reminds me of a scientist observing animals in a zoo. And poor Peter. He is trapped by a social contract Jerry ignores and comes across much as priest in a confessional.
Doing some research online, I discovered that Albee amended the play into a full two acts around 2004. I’ve ordered a copy of it (Edward Albee’s at Home at the Zoo) to see how that changes my perspective on things.
The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker
And now we come to the book that really threw me.
Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.
When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.
Summary copied from Kylie Lee Baker
I love YA literature. There are some truly wonderful stories out there that combine bildungsroman with fantasy (Percy Jackson, Pendragon) or dystopian (Divergent, The Hunger Games). Harry Potter was a massive part of my youth (and though JK Rowling is a TERF and despicable person you can’t change what HP has meant to me as a person). I’m also a bit of a Japanophile and love mythology. All that to say I should have loved this novel.
I hated it.
Not only did it take me over a week to read (which is weird in and of itself since the book is less than 400 pages), I never felt a connection to it. I didn’t care about the characters or their motivations or relationships. The ending felt unearned and dissatisfying. At some point, I wondered if Baker was trying to emulate Hayao Miyazaki and the way he is able to develop a story. If so, she does a poor job of it.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. Kylie Lee Baker has some truly beautiful moments peppered throughout the book. Some of the visuals she writes feel more like paintings than written word and I love that. She mixes in Japanese and Breton mythology with a surprising adeptness, suggesting a deep understanding of the two.