Tuesday, May 8, 2007

On Housekeeping

You thought I was going to rant about housekeeping, the activity, not the book.

This is a reflection on the book, not of the activity. Though, Thursday we are cleaning house and I might have some more OCD tips for you.

Time Magazine named Housekeeping one of the 100 All Time Novels.

I wouldn't go so far.

Please don't misunderstand me, it's a quite lovely novel about two sisters coming of age and negotiating their roles in society--what is proper and what isn't. Additionally, the themes of family, dream vs memory, material vs natural worlds, and death are dealt with in a quite meaningful, intelligent manner. The book is grand gesture, a long curtsy at the end of a pretty dance, maybe...It just wasn't my cup of tea, which if you know me, you know that words like "pretty" and "lovely" mean "just ay-right."

The novel builds slowly. Slowly is the key word. I wasn't hooked in a I-can't-put-this-book-down way until page 126 when Lucille, the more materialist sister became bitchy: "'Let me see that,' Lucille said. She took the book by each end of its spine and shook it. Scores of flowers and petals fell and drifted between the pages. Lucille kept shaking until nothing more came, and then she handed the dictionary back to me. 'Pinking shears,' she said" (126). I loved this scene when Lucille asks Ruthie to help her sew a suit, and Ruthie finds nature in the dictionary when all Lucille wants to know are what are pinking shears. It captured, with accuracy, that temper of girl adolescence and the dire need to fall in with the crowd, especially when you feel like you come from a family of loons.

Until the end I was taken with novel and appreciated much of the writing:
"It is better to have nothing, for at last even our bones will fall. It is better to have nothing" (159).

"What is thought, after all, what is dreaming, but swim and flow, and the images they seem to animate?"...and the rest of this passage (162-163).

"I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected--an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, a fact that I accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows" (166).

"Anyone that leans to look in a pool is a woman in the pool, anyone who looks into our eyes is the image in our eyes, and these things are true without argument, and so our thoughts reflect what passes before them. But there are difficulties" (166).

"Sylvie only kept them, I think, because she considered accumulation to be the essence of housekeeping, and because she considered the hoarding of worthless things to be proof of a particularly scrupulous thrift" (180).

"Perhaps memory is the seat not only of prophecy but of miracle as well" (196).

"It is absurd to think that things were held in place, are held in place, by a web of words" (200). My favorite passage!

Right, these passages are all quite beautiful, and, in my opinion, well written. What lacks for me, most of the time, is plot. The end feels the most unreal to me. I won't tell you what happens, in case you haven't read it and want to, but I found it a bit unbelievable and far fetched. Perhaps it is my skepticism that is a product of these present times and the ending could have happened in the past in the 50s, 60s, or 70s. I don't know. I just found it too ideal, too perfect in a way. This novel was built around the complications and difficulties in life, real or imagined, so I just don't feel like it delivered that complication effectively at its end.

I'd give it 3 out of 5 hello kittys.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

You hit the nail on the head! I agree, completely--and I got "into" the book in almost the same spot. But that's a lot of reading in a very short book to get to something good....

Suddenly, at that point, I realized I couldn't put it down. But it wasn't the "story" because there wasn't much of one. Getting to the point (that you already made so well), I was hooked because I have never read a book like that before--no one writes like that. So that's worth something. But, top 100? Please.