Saturday, January 12, 2008

PERSUASION by Jane Austen

The Book: Jane Austen, PERSUASION. Bantam Classic paperback, 1984.
First read: 1980 (best guess)
Owned since: 1990 (best guess, this copy)

Reason to call my cable company on Monday and get my "On Demand" feature fixed once and for all: PBS is running the first episode of "Persuasion" at the same time as the next episode of "The Wire" on HBO. Dammit, nothing to watch all week, and then the two things I want to see are on opposite each other.

Of all of Jane Austen's novels, I found Persuasion most difficult to get through, even though it might be the shortest. I remember picking it up in fourth or fifth grade, soon after I'd sped through Pride and Prejudice, and being bored and baffled by the class warfare at the heart of the story. I didn't manage to finish it until sometime in high school, but it still didn't make much sense to me until I rediscovered it years later.

Anne Elliot, an old maid at 27, must move to Bath with her spendthrift, snobbish father and sister. At Bath, she meets a former suitor, Captain Wentworth, who is now courting the young and vivacious Louisa Musgrove. Years earlier, Anne's relatives had persuaded to reject Wentworth as socially unacceptable. Now she regrets that decision, and it seems too late to do anything about it.

In Jane Austen's world, of course, it's never too late. The wise are rewarded, the foolish mostly spared, and everything works out for the best. Which, more than anything else, is why we all go back to these books, and love the movies and television shows they make.

It's been a stressful week, and I'm sorry that I didn't post yesterday. The good news is that I've been cast in Gaslight Theater's spring show, "Don't Dress for Dinner," running March 20-22 and 27-29. It's a French farce about adultery (aren't they all), and I play Jacqueline, the betrayed and faithless wife. Should be a great time; mark your calendars now.

What I Read This Week

J. D. Rhoades, SAFE AND SOUND. I had not read either of Rhoades's earlier Jack Keller novels; Keller is a former Special Forces operative-turned-private investigator, in the tradition of Lee Child's Jack Reacher but not as emotionally detached. This time out, Keller's girlfriend Marie becomes the unwitting target of an international conspiracy when she agrees to take on an apparently routine child custody case. Fast-paced, violent, bleak.

Peter Abrahams, NERVE DAMAGE. Another book I'm sorry I missed when it first came out (last March), because it certainly would have made my list of best crime novels of 2007. Sculptor Roy Valois learns he has a fatal disease, and decides to find out what his obituary will say. A minor error in the description of his late wife's death sends him on a quest that reveals a whole secret life his wife kept from him, and Valois races his own death sentence to get at the truth.

Christopher Rice, BLIND FALL. Rice takes big risks with this thriller about the death of a former Marine who turns out to have been hiding his partner and his life as a gay man. Ex-Marine John Houck discovers the mutilated body of his former comrade and must deal with his own homophobia, as well as lingering guilt over an earlier loss, before he can bring the killer to justice. Rice manages to pull together seemingly unrelated plotlines, and skates right up to the edge of preaching without ever going too far. Well done. I read an advance copy; the book's out in March.

Michael Chabon, THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION. I spent weeks on this book, literally, and still don't know what to make of it. In an alternate version of the present, most of the American Jewish population lives in the territory of Sitka, Alaska, established as a temporary homeland during the Second World War. Now Sitka is about to revert to the United States, and the Jews there face another diaspora -- the nation of Israel collapsed decades earlier, and their travel is restricted. Washed-up police detective Meyer Landsman investigates the death of an addict in his flophouse hotel, and discovers an international conspiracy linked to prophecies of the Messiah and the worst forms of American imperialism. The first two-thirds of this book is dazzling; the last third moves into more conventional thriller territory, and the ending pissed me off. I need to have a long discussion with other people who have read this book -- anybody?


Claire said...

If I'm in the country, I'd love to come see your show. Count me in!

AnswerGirl said...

Uh-oh... it might not be appropriate for children. I will have to think hard about whether you are old enough... about whether _I_ am old enough ...

Anna said...

I gave the Yiddish Policeman's Union to Tarren for Xmas. I'll have him give you a ring when he finishes it!

Kevin Wignall said...

Shame on me for missing this post. "Persuasion" is a beautiful book, but yes, perhaps the only Austen that isn't suitable for teenagers - to really appreciate the power of it you need to have walked some way in Anne Elliot's shoes, or in Captain Wentworth's.