Reading Roundup – Week of 11/15/2021

Another week, another murderer goes free and I keep on reading. Ah! The Grand Ole United States! Please imagine the extreme sarcasm the previous statement was made with as well as the several eye rolls. As much as I’d love to discuss the recent court decision in Wisconsin, I am not armed with enough information (nor do I wish to do the research at this time) to have a proper, well-rounded essay on it.

Truly, I digress. This week’s reading took me to a girl’s first ball, to explore the American Dream, to the streets of San Francisco (though this shall be getting its own post on Wednesday), and a return to the Westlands.

Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield

Summary

A young girl called Leila has come to the city to stay with her cousins. They are going to a ball. Leila is very excited: this is her first ball. Once there, she is both excited and terrified. After dancing with several young boys her own age, she dances with a wrinkly balding man who has been coming to balls for a while. This spoils her mood until she dances with a good looking young gentleman where her worries disappear.

Summary copied from Wikipedia

From Shutterstock

My thoughts

I am still puzzling over this story, even when I’ve looked to the internet for help. It’s an interesting little vignette. I wonder if it is meant to be a cautionary tale? Beware ignoring aging for it’ll come quicker than you think! Or, is it a tale of the virtue of living in the moment? I don’t know.

I am fascinated by Leila’s encounter with the thirty-year veteran of balls. Prior to dancing with him, she has danced with several boys her own age and is quite excited by the evening. Then he comes and has to ruin everything by telling her how fleeting balls are for young women. Soon, she’ll be one of the mothers watching instead of enjoying. Terrible, really. Except, he hasn’t ruined anything, really. As soon as her next partner appears and whisks her back onto the dance floor, she’s forgotten him. Even bumping into him again fails to jog her memory.

Perhaps, Mansfield is simply imploring us to find joy in the moment. Part of me doesn’t think so, though. After all, why spend the bulk of the story with this old man decrying things to be?


The American Dream by Edward Albee

Summary

Mommy and Daddy sit in a barren living room making small talk. Mommy, the domineering wife, is grappling with the thought of putting Grandma in a nursing home. Daddy, the long-suffering husband, could not care less. Grandma appears, lugging boxes of belongings, which she stacks by the door. Mommy and Daddy can’t imagine what’s in those boxes, but Grandma is well aware of Mommy’s possible intentions. Mrs. Barker, the chairman of the women’s club, arrives, not knowing why she is there. Is she there to take Grandma away? Apparently not. It all becomes evident when Grandma reveals to Mrs. Barker the story of the botched adoption of a “bumble of joy” twenty years ago by Mommy and Daddy. Mrs. Barker appears to have figured it out when Young Man enters. He’s muscular, well-spoken, the answer to Mommy and Daddy’s prayers: The American Dream. Grandma convinces him to assist in her master plan. She puts one over on everybody and escapes the absurdly realistic world which she finds so predictable.

Summary copied from Concord Theatricals

From Shutterstock

My thoughts

This was quite the weird, absurd, and horrific take down of the American Dream.

Twenty years prior to the action of the play, Mommy and Daddy adopted a son. He was to be their pride and joy. Then he begins growing up, discovering his body as all young people do, but Mommy and Daddy are horrified by this. They quite literally mutilate and eventually kill him, seemingly to maintain an ideal of perfection. Towards the end of the play, the boy’s twin shows up and he is the idea of the perfect American male: “Clean-cut, midwest farm boy type, almost insultingly good-looking in a typical American way. Good profile, straight nose, honest eyes, wonderful smile…” Grandma names him the American Dream.

Yet, something is off. He explains that as he grew up he felt he loss parts of himself. The audience is able to deduce here that as the son of Mommy and Daddy lost physical body parts, the American Dream lost what those parts were meant for. Here, Albee has revealed how far we will go to protect what we believe is American. Though the idea of the American Dream is vague and unformed, innocent in the way a thing not truly considered is, it must be protected and we are called to prune the unseemly parts and the derivations. But. We only do as we are told to do.

Seemingly unconnected is Mommy’s hat (never seen; only discussed early on). Is it wheat or beige or cream? We only know the color as it is told to you us, never shown to us. I see some parallels to things today.


The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

I’ve returned to the Wheel of Time this week with book 5 The Fires of Heaven, and I’ve come to a conclusion: Robert Jordan has a weird way of describing women when they cross their arms. Literally every time one does, it is described as crossing/folding/placing her arms beneath her breasts. I wish I were joking.

I’ve discussed this with a few friends. One asked if this only happened when the character we’re following is male. It doesn’t. No matter who we’re following, it’s  “…her arms beneath her breasts.” That’s weird.

I’ve counted twice it’s already happened in book 5. I think I can safely say it’s happened at least a dozen times throughout the previous four books. Its leading me toward the conclusion that Robert Jordan was sexist. Whether intentionally so is another matter.

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