Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cold Sassy Tree

I loved Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. I listened to it on my work commute. There were a few days I sat in my car at work waiting for a chapter to end.

The setting for the novel is the early 1900's in Georgia. A teenage boy, Will Tweedy, narrates the novel, so the observations on life are hilarious and unintentionally insightful. Will is the favorite of his grandfather, Enoch Rucker Blakslee. This novel is equally about grandfather and grandson as Will learns from his grandfather's instructions, verbal and actual, on how to live life.

The small town setting here makes the novel. Anyone living in the south or a small town will recognize the truth of how one person's business becomes everyone's business.

Early in the novel Rucker's wife, Mattie Lou, dies. There is no doubt of the love Rucker has for his departed wife in the extravagant way she is buried. However, even though Rucker is the owner of the town general store and some property, he is a bit of a penny pincher, and much is made at the start of the novel about the fact that Rucker would never install a bathroom or running water in his house for Mattie Lou.

The immediate conflict is the question of who is going to take care of Rucker now that Mattie Lou has died. He has two daughters, Mary Willis (Will's mother) and Loma (married to an unfortunate non-starter, henpecked husband). While the bereaved family is trying to sort through their grief, Rucker almost immediately remarries another woman, Miss Love. Miss Love Simpson is much younger than Rucker and has been working at his store as a milliner.

Talk about small town gossip and disapproval. Poor Miss Love, who hails from the north and is an outsider Yankee, has little chance of earning the family's love and the town's acceptance because of her audacity to try to take the place of Mattie Lou. Everyone is up in arms over the marriage except for Will who has his own little crush on Miss Love.

I have to say at this point in the novel, I was actually feeling bad for the daughters. Here they have been loyal and true to their father, and it looks like Rucker might have married someone who will fleece him. This does happen. I'm thinking Anna Nicole Smith here. Who knows what the new wife will do with all of their mother's belongings, with the house, with the store, with the property?

The fun of this novel is finding out exactly why these two decided to get married and how their marriage sets the town and the family on its ear. During this process Will Tweedy does boy things and has boy adventures and experiences his first love with a girl from the poor side of town.

There are times in this novel where I laughed out loud and times when I cried (which is hard to explain when you are walking into work early in the morning). I would recommend reading this novel to anyone who likes a good 'ole fashioned yarn with homespun wisdom.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

I read A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams because of the spin list results for The Classics Club. I am lucky that it is a short, easy read of 11 scenes that can be completed in a couple of hours.

I like to mention what I am reading or what I am going to read to my students. I hope it is affirmation to them that reading is a life-long activity. I have a group of students who read the play last year, and they were very excited for me to finish, so we could talk about it. I asked them if I would like the play and almost all of them thought I would have something to say about how the women are treated.

I have the Marlon Brando movie version. I've read a few reviews saying it is difficult to stage this play. I can understand why. Much of the stage direction actually interprets the scene or highlights what is symbolic.

As far as my enjoyment on the play, I was on the fence until the end. It had a whopper of an ending; it was like a gut punch. The entire play I hoped that Blanche would find a way to resolve her situation and that Stanley would lose some of his abusive tendencies and that Stella would wise up to Stanley's and Blanche's problems. But whoa..... in the last couple of scenes things get crazy.

It is almost impossible to say any more about the play without giving away the entire plot.

I did have an interesting conversation with my students about the play. They decided that Blanche is a bit like Rachel from The Poisonwood Bible. As far as AP material, this play does make an allusion to the Elysian fields of King Arthur's time which I can work with on the open question. Also, this play critiques society, and that is always fun to talk about.