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Apr. 1st, 2017

East of Eden, John Steinbeck (1952)

Well, I cried at the end.

Spoilers for East of Eden plus way too many Expressive Capital Letters )

It's very good, if not quite my cup of ethical struggle.

P.S. What are the Hamilton-Steinbecks even doing in this book? I kept expecting them to intersect more directly with the Trasks.

The Snow Ball, Brigid Brophy (1964)

This is a small book forged from dense, ravishing language. It doesn't really function like a story; it works like music, with motives and themes appearing, submerging, reappearing in new forms. (And motive, here, has a lovely double valence of character motivation and recurring image or idea – the cherub's face, the mint cream, sex and death.)

The book is like a small, ornately-carved case that, opened, reveals itself to be a music box and begins to play, with little dancers twirling inside – and then, when the music reaches its final crescendo, suddenly snaps shut, almost on your fingers.

When I arrived at the finale of the book, I thought: am I disappointed with this ending? It's abrupt and it's not what I wanted for these people, as people. Then suddenly I could see, dimly, back over the course of the novel, the way its central characters, while being wholly and recognizably human (and in fact specifically really quite 1960s British humans), each also embody Eros and Thanatos, in immortal-mortal dance. The book ends as music ends, in the meeting and resolution of themes, rather than as a narrative: and maybe there is something unsatisfying in the resolution of even the most perfect music, precisely because it works at the edge of signification but never enters in. To do this from the other side, to take the tools of narrative – image, dialogue, event – and make them function like music – is pretty astonishing.2

This is more my sort of thing than East of Eden -- scintillating, amoral, elliptical, strange.

The Snow Ball was my favorite recent encounter with art until I listened to S-Town and saw Legion, and now I think there must be so much good creative stuff in the world that my heart can’t contain it all.


1. I guess I mean not just the archetypal murderer but also the ones who lose out through some ordinary mistake, appetite, miscalculation, and the treachery of others.

2. Partly I get this musical stuff from knowing that Brophy was inspired by Mozart's Don Juan, and was a serious scholar of his music.

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