The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.”

I heard about this story earlier today from Amanda over at Dead White Guys: An Irreverent Guide to Classic Literature where she called it “one of the creepiest things ever ever”. With the RIP VI challenge on the brain, this sounded right up my alley. I found a free copy of it online and cleared about a half hour on my work calendar, anxiously awaiting to be titillated (dirty) and flabberghasted (not dirty, but sounds like it should be). This is not, however, what happened.

Granted, this short story does pack quite a bit of punch in to it’s relatively tiny length. It’s at once a feminist plea to actually be able to DO SOMETHING – gasp! – as opposed to sitting around all day, an exploration of ‘madness’ and all that goes with the term, and an incredibly long winded narration on some shoddy home decorating. Because SERIOUSLY. C.P. Gilman goes on FOREVER about this yellow wall paper. In detail. Yes, it’s the title of the story. Yes, I guess it’s kind of this huge metaphor for the double-ness that exists between a woman’s inner life and her outer life. And sure, it gets kind of creepy at the end (especially when **SPOILER** you’re left wondering, in a very Hamlet-esque fashion, whether or not she really was the woman in the wallpaper, whether or not there was a woman in the wallpaper, and just what are those strange S&N-reminiscent marks all over the wall and bedpost? **END SPOILER**

I found the story to be far stronger in it’s feminist aspects than in it’s horror-story ones. The yellow wallpaper – “It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw–not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things…But there is something else about that paper–the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here” – is all that the main character (whose name we don’t ever learn, I don’t think) has to look at. All day. Why? Because she’s a lady – quite possibly a mentally ill one at that – and because of that her husband (a “physician” of the times, though he should really be careful against praising his depressed wife for sleeping all the time and then SUDDENLY BECOMING AN INSOMNIAC!!! I mean, can you say giant flashing ‘warning’ sign?)  “says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.”

And by trying, she means she does nothing. Literally nothing. She sits. And stares. And writes this story, which apparently she shouldn’t be doing because it’s still too much exertion for her tiny womanly frame and weak, menstruation-laden sensibilities to be able to handle. So she watches the wallpaper. Is it moving? Or is the abstract geometry of the pattern just driving her insane? That’s the question, at the end of the day, that the reader is left to explore. Too bad the process of exploring this question is enough to drive me almost as insane as Ms Gilman’s wallpaper.

I’ll be counting this as part of my Peril of the Short Story section for Carl’s RIP Challenge, and can’t wait to hit up some better other short stories! Don’t skip the read, though. It might be more your thing. I just like to know my insane people are insane. Unless you really are Hamlet, in which case I’m going to assume you be crazy. But it’s a great feminist read, and makes you really glad (as a lady) that the days of medically ‘curing’ a woman have come past “um…lock her in a room?”

Happy reading!

PS: Thank you so much to all those fantastic well-wishers out there who passed on their congratulations! It means the world and I can tell you that we’re both (obviously) really, really excited!

Review: Look Again, Lisa Scottoline

 I was assigned Look Again by Lisa Scottoline for an English class on recent popular literature – a class I dropped after the first 15 minutes of the first lecture. If I wanted a Garrison Keilor on quaaludes experience, I’d stay home and dope up to A Prarie Home Companion, not pay for the credit hours of sitting in this class. I tell you this because, regardless of this less-than-ideal class experience, I was determined to get through the books on the syllabus anyway. I mean, I had already bought them – a lot of them on Kindle, so I was carrying a number of them with me at once – so I might as well finish them, right? Wrong.

Look Again started off all well and good. Journalist Ellen Gleeson is very much so in love with her adopted son, Will. She adopted him years ago after doing an in-depth profile on him as a story. Will was a sickly child, and he met Ellen when she did a story on his pediatric cardiac care unit. Fast forward three years, and a photo turns up on Ellen’s desk that looks exactly like Will, only it’s not Will. It’s a time-progressed photo of a boy who was kidnapped right around the time that Ellen began to get to know Will and adopt him. Suddenly, Ellen’s whole world is turned upside down when she’s forced to face the thought – what if her adopted son Will is actually the kidnapped Timothy Braverman? Things start to get even more suspicious when Ellen learns that the family of the adoptive mother had no idea she’d given up the baby, and the lawyer handling the case commits suicide. Ellen decides then and there to take it upon herself to find out exactly who her son is, and where Timothy Braverman went. All of that sounds like an amazing premise, right?! Right! That’s exactly what I thought to. Unfortunately, for me at least, the premise just stopped working about half of the way through.

I don’t entirely know what the problem was. Maybe it all just got too far-fetched and extreme for me. I can understand the curiosity, and even the pressing nature of not being able to rest until you know. But Ellen is willing to throw away a relationship, a job, and even time with her son in order to answer this question. Perhaps its just that the writing was a bit doltish, which I was willing to go with while the plot kept pace, but then that started to go downhill too. Right about the time that Ellen takes off to drop in on the Bravermans, everything just started moving too slowly. Passages discussing the law were intermixed with repetitive passages about how worried Ellen was, and WHAT IF, and…well, I’m sure you can imagine. And it’s not that these questions and concerns aren’t valid. It’s that they’re repetitive. Excruciatingly so.

That being said, I really did love Ellen as a character. I thought she was a great literary example of the love that inhabits a person that makes them willing to adopt and love as their own a child who’s creation they had no part in. I’ve a number of friends who either have adopted or were adopted, and I’ve always been a little curious as to what made them/their parents decide to open their homes and hearts to make a family kind of like a patchwork quilt. I know part of it may have to do with reproductive issues, but clearly that can’t be the whole story. But it always feels a little awkward to ask those questions point blank, so I felt like Look Again did a good job of providing possible insight and answers.

This book is probably right up some people’s alleys. I should mention that I’m not the biggest fan of crime mysteries (I’ll read them and enjoy them, but they’re rarely a go-to genre choice) so that might have had something to do with my reaction to this book. I also want to say that, while it may be slightly unfair to give the book only 2.5 stars, as I didn’t even manage to get through the whole thing, that rating applies only to what I did read, that being the first 50% of the book. I think it’s fairly telling, though, when the reader just stops caring about the answer to the question that is driving the whole of the novel. And that’s exactly what happened with Look Again.

Review: Silk

Silk by Alessandro Baricco was almost a book that I didn’t manage to read before it was due at the library, and, having risked the dreaded late-fees just enough to get through it, I can’t entirely say that I’m glad I did.

Don’t get me wrong. The book isn’t bad. But it’s not really complimentary to say that the best thing about the book is that it’s short – my edition came in, literally, at 97 pages, most of which weren’t even full pages and had huge margins. I read the book because I’d seen the movie (which I won’t review because, much like the book, there really just isn’t a whole lot to say) with Michale Pitt and, seeing as how he’s been my favorite actor since his glory days on Dawson’s Creek, I figured I’d go ahead and read the book.

The story focuses on Herve Joncour, a silk breeder in a small French town, who has to travel to Japan when the European silk-worm crop comes down with some kind of disease that prevents them from producing the silk that has become such a high commodity. However, at this point in time Japan was essentially closed to all foreigners, and was especially not available for those pursuing Japanese silkworms. And so Herve’s journeys (there are four throughout the book) to Japan grow more and more dangerous as the political situation in the country becomes more and more dire. While in Japan, Herve falls into infatuation with the young female conquest of the man who assists him in getting his silk off the Japanese black market. The two never talk, but manage to have one brief sexual encounter that lingers with Herve for the rest of his life.

The book was told in a series of short chapters, most of which weren’t even a full page, and the book had a lot of repetition that normally I would have liked (it seems like the travel scene where he travels to Japan is literally copied and pasted each time he has to go back) but that I felt was tedious and overdone in a book this short. I’m sure that Baricco was just trying to go for a specific feel, but I’m not sure the one he achieved was the one he was trying to accomplish.

The best part of this book is, quite obviously as it is pretty much the central focus, the affair between Herve and his Japanese mistress (who, ironically, isn’t Japanese. Her eyes are *always* described as being non-slanted and her skin is *always* described as being white, but the story of why she’s with the black market dealers and what her actual ethnicity is isn’t ever revealed) and, more specifically, the way that this affair changes his relationship to his wife. **SPOILERS** His wife, left at home constantly as Herve looks for silk, eventually catches on to his not-so-subtle affair and, in the end, is the reason that Herve feels like he can bring any closure to the situation. After finding a note written from the mistress to Herve (which says, in Japanese, “come back or I shall die”) she takes the time to write him another letter, getting help with the Japanese from a local brothel owner. In the letter, she describes a really intense physical and sexual encounter in great detail, and at the end, speaks of how Herve should erase her from his mind, that the two can never be together. When Herve finds the letter, he is originally under the assumption that it’s actually from his mistress, but before too long he realizes that his wife is the actual author and is fully aware of her knowledge of what’s happening. It’s heartbreaking for Herve, but even more so for the reader, because the truth about the letter isn’t revealed to the reader until it’s revealed to Herve. **END SPOLIERS**

All in all, the book wasn’t all that great. The length kept any of the characters from being fully developed, and the short-sentence, constant-repetition style over so few pages makes the book a halting read. There were a few good passages scattered about, and the informational bits about the silk trade and silk farming process were full of new information. But do yourself a favor and skip this rather wimpy little half-story. If you really insist, watch the movie – its on the same level content wise, but at least it’s preeeeety. Happy reading!

UPDATE: I wanted to give Silk the small amount of credit it has coming to it by posting one of the passages that was truly the most beautiful, in my opinion. Talk about writing to get you all hot and bothered!

“Until in the end I shall kiss you on the heart, because I want you, I shall bite the skin that throbs on your heart, because I want you, and with your heart between my lips you will be mine, forever, if you do not believe me, open your eyes, my master, and beloved, and look at me, it is I.”

Let the Northen Lights Erase Your Name

As Nymeth so kindly pointed out, I am indeed alive! And living in my own apartment sans cable has inspired quite the boutof reading lately, so the blog is back with a vengence, at least for now!

Let%20the%20Northern%20LightsShortly after finishing The Time Traveler’s Wife I picked up and powered through Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida. The book focuses on a girl named Clarissa who, shorlty after her father’s death, learns that he wasn’t, in fact, her birth father. This send Clarissa on a trip around the world, back home to her mother’s old hometown in Eastern Europe, an area known as Lapland that is essentially a mixture of Russia and Sweden.

Clarissa’s mother left her at a young age, and on this trip to find her birth father, she also comes to some shocking revelations that make Clarissa see that she perhaps had more in common with her mother than she ever would have hoped to have. It’s a book that fills you qith more questions than answers, and I have to give credit to the wirting for creating a story that, while short, carries quite a bit of punch with it. That being said, I will say that one of the best things about the book was that it didn’t take long to get through.

I will say that I did enjoy the book, but it was one of those books that just kind of filled the time gap between the other books I was reading. The story was well plotted, if not a bit forced at timess, and there are probably other common ties I would’ve established between Clarissa and her mother, but those weren’t my choices! All in all I think that it’s one of those books that, while you probably wouldn’t regret readign, it’s also not necessarily the book you should run out immediately to read. There are some adult themes throughout, so if that’s something that bothers you, you may want to steer clear, but all in all, not a bad book if you’re looking for something quick!

Next on the list of reviews is The History of Love by Nickole Krauss, who is married to one of my favorite authors of all time (Mr. Jonathan Safran Foer) and whose book was lovely in that haunting way that I love so much. And then, if I can power through it over the long weekend, there should be a review of This Much I know is True  by Wally Lamb, which at 900 pages is presenting quiet the beast of a book to get through! And if you’re wondering where all the wonderful new book acquisitions came from, the answer is simple – a wonderful new roommate with wonderful literary taste and a penchant for sharing! More to come!