Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey is another borrow from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Miranda is six when we first meet her and her Papa. She is in awe of his magic and his art as he conjures for the wild boy of the isle to approach. Papa talks to the spirits, wheels his magic using the power of the planets, and sacrifices a hen to entice the wild boy, Caliban, to their abandoned Moorish palace. Miranda is under Papa’s spell and wants to make him proud of her, so she is very careful. Papa is all she knows for now. Since we know The Tempest, we know this. Carey has fantastical skills, too, and asks us to forgive her her trespass.
This prologue introduces us to Prospero’s magic skills and we learn how he wields them to control Miranda via an amulet with a lock of her hair that is around his neck. H has an amulet for Caliban too. This is how he controls the two of them. There is infliction of pain too. Ariel is released from his spell laid on him by Caliban’s mother Sycorax. The password to unlock Ariel is Caliban’s father, Setebos. Ariel promises to be Prospero’s servant, so he is released. The relationships among these three is interesting and develops as any threesome does develop with strife, antagonism, and jealousy. Miranda likes and teaches Caliban, but doesn’t like or trust Ariel. Ariel taunts and looks down on Caliban, while Ariel annoys Caliban. “Together, we (Miranda and Caliban) become student and teacher alike as we learn and relearn the art of speech. As for Ariel, the spirit makes himself scarce from my (Miranda) presence, and I am grateful for it.” When Miranda gets her first period things change.
The Tempest is a ballet and Carey dances about the issues beautifully in this prequel. She is of course hampered with what she can do in a prequel as opposed to a sequel. I love the exploration of the four characters: Prospero, Miranda, Caliban, and Ariel. She interprets the play well, as she provides a good story of these four in this prequel. It is plausible. It works and is well done. I also like the interaction between Papa and daughter, as it helps us better understand their relationship in the play. Carey does a wonderful job with Prospero’s cell and magic. I now must go and read The Tempest again especially after this and Atwood’s contribution.
The idea of this book is well founded as are other prequels and sequels to Shakespeare’s plays, but it should have ended at the storm, Chapter Forty-Four. The rest is The Tempest.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hag-Seed, The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed, The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood is a novel about Revenge, using Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the vehicle. For some reason I am reminded of John Cheever’s Falconer because of the jail setting, also the beauty of the writing. Atwood has used The Tempest as the model for her novel. Her characters are living the nightmare that is the story of the play. One leader is ousted by another and ends up in isolation and then my chance they are reunited in the ousted man’s territory.
We all know the story of The Tempest. In Atwood’s story, Felix, is the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival until he is ousted by his assistant Tony. Felix has also had a personal tragedy. He has lost his wife in the childbirth of his daughter, Miranda, who in turn died of meningitis at an early age. He imagines Miranda is still with him. He disappears into the wilderness and finds an isolated house in the woods. He eventually gets a job as an English teacher in the Fletcher Correctional Facility and creates a troupe of players. After more than a dozen years of exile, Felix, now Mr. Duke, discovers his old enemies and ousters are to come to the prison, in the their new roles as government officials. Felix, Mr. Duke, plans his revenge. He will put on The Tempest, the play he was going to put on when he was ousted from the Festival.
There are three stories: The Tempest, Felix and his ghosts, and the play put on by the inmates. The most fun part is the play put on by the inmates. Felix puts them in teams and they have to determine the form of production and use their own experiences in the production. Getting them past Ariel the fairy and Caliban the beast are easily enough done and brilliantly. He brings in an actress to play Miranda. The revenge part is hilarious and moving as Felix weaves his magic, with some help from drugs, on his enemies. The interpretation parts of his directing are brilliant examples very worthy of any English class, which makes this a wonderful companion read when teaching this play. I gained such new insight from Atwood’s interpretations and teachings. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the lessons was how Felix demanded of the actors that they project what would happen next, after the play has ended to each of the characters. As always the best lesson when a story is done is to ask, what next?
Felix uses this production to exact revenge upon his enemies and to finally exorcise the ghost of his daughter, Miranda. Felix speaks of nine prisons in the play and as he helps the inmates negotiate these prisons he, too, is finding freedom from his own shackles.
Reading this novel based on the famous swan song play of the Bard is such a delight. I love The Tempest and her treatment of it with such reverence is magnificent. I hope this novel is on this year’s Man Booker List, it is most worthy.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley

And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley resurrects Leonid McGill, a New York City PI, the east coast Easy Rawlins. Leonid has a very complicated family. Suffice it to say, most of the story revolves around his family, his estranged father, suicidal wife, children that aren’t his and are raised by him, and women who want him. He has a checkered past that has the police wanting to look him up. Former associates from the past make his current work successful. He has computer geeks who created a fortress for his office. They can find anything and anyone on the Internet since they have hacked all the government computers.  He has a street gang to rival the NYPD. All Leo wants is normal, whatever that may be.
His current case involves three different sets of killers who want McGill dead and three different women who just want him. After saving a woman on a train from Philly, this new case gets complicated because of the theft of an old copy of Herodotus’s Histories. Now what a coincidence. I had recently read a book, Gary Corby’s The Singer from Memphis, which has as part of its tale the writing of these Histories by none other than Herodotus himself. Finally, his son, training to be like his dad, stumbles upon a huge child gang headed by a modern day Fagin.  These three cases are juggled simultaneously with his interaction with three women, who each provide him with a piece of his needs. Add to this the sudden appearance of his long lost, whom everyone thought was dead. 
Mosley always writes a very human and intricate novel that revolves around family, some shady characters, and plenty of action. Novels like this would normally be just escape, but with Mosley it is so much more and it is always great.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty is the 2016 Man Booker winner.  This is a savagely satirical look at the black experience sprinkled judiciously with the right amount of sarcasm and wit as told to us by our narrator, a “sellout.” The action takes place in Dickens, California, a town that ceases to exist. It ceased to exist because the county officials wanted to erase the blemish of Dickens from the map. Dickens was bad for tourism and industry. To save the town the narrator decides to take it back to the days of segregation to save or to revitalize the town and its people. It is great history of people and a novel that should sit beside Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman on that shelf of American masterpieces.
“No, I don’t miss my father. I just regret that I never had the nerve to ask him if it was really true that I’d spent the sensorimotor and preoperational stages of my life with one hand tied behind my back. Talk about starting life off with a handicap. Fuck being black. Try learning to crawl, ride a tricycle, cover both eyes while playing peek-a-boo, and constructing a meaningful theory of minds, all with one hand.”
Beatty takes us on a unique adventure with a black man as he wanders through the turning point in his life. The characters around him define him, direct him, and give him purpose. A tyrant father home schooled him. He has a slave, Hominy Jenkins. He lives in a town that ceases to exist so he paints a line around it so as to reestablish the border of Dickens. He’s not as good a “nigger” whisperer as his father but he tries. He uses Latin as often as possible to elevate himself and to reflect his education. He disassociates himself with the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals, a club his father helped found. He is searching for love. Our narrator is everyone and no one at the same time. This satirical novel had me laugh, cry, and scream in frustration at the obvious story Beatty is telling us, the one we all know and have failed to really address. We still haven’t gotten too much further in America then Huck Finn or Go Set a Watchman. In the immortal words of 45, “Sad!”
One pure truth about America, not the only one, is that we are a racist nation. What makes us great is our diversity. What makes us weak is our diversity. That is why Huck Finn and Go Set a Watchman and now this novel, The Sellout are my choices for the most important American novels. They remind us of this sad fact. From the birth of this nation all the way to today, we are about racism. Everything else is the supporting cast. It couldn’t be more obvious than to look at America during presidents 44 and now 45. Ironically, when our narrator is asked what is the most dangerous word, it isn’t “nigger” he says, it is any word that ends in “–ess”. This is eye-popping mind fuck of a novel that is deserving of all its accolades and more.
Huck had Jim, Scout had Atticus, and our narrator has Hominy Perkins. As Huck lites out for the territory; Scout “can’t beat him (Atticus) or can’t join him”; our narrator has his father’s questions: “I thought of my father and remembered what he told me. You have to ask yourself two questions: Who am I? and How may I become myself?”
And in any great story we always have to ask, “So what happened next?”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy is a story about a mother and a daughter that reminds me of TC Boyle’s The Road to Wellville. In a final and desperate attempt to find a cure for her mother’s ailment, Sofia accompanies her mother, Rose, to a health clinic in Spain. Rose wants to amputate her feet. Sofia is her mother’s legs and feet. She has been ever since her father abandoned her when she was five. While Rose is at the clinic, Dr. Gomez, wants Sofia to separate herself from Rose. In doing so she takes on Juan, a local boy, as a lover; adds Ingrid, a local German artist, as a lover; and seeks out her estranged father in Athens. Her father has married a girl, forty years his junior who has had his baby, Sofia’s younger sister, Evangeline, which means messenger like an angel. Sofia is alone in the world. Sofia is an ABD anthropologist.
“I was beginning to understand Ingrid Bauer. She was always pushing me to the edge in one way or another. My boundaries were made from sand so she reckoned she could push them over, and I let her. I gave unspoken consent because I want to know what’s going to happen next, even if it’s not to my advantage. Am I self-destructive, or pathologically passive, or reckless, or just experimental, or am I a rigorous cultural anthropologist, or am I in love?” Sofia slowly learns the truths about those around her: her dad, her mom, Dr. Gomez, Juan, Ingrid, and even the howling dog she sets free. Is this about her mom’s ailments, or Sofia’s?
To be free one has to stop enabling others and to make and do bold things, otherwise we are alone and purposeless.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Swing Time by Zadie Smith is a long awaited new novel for me from this magnificent writer. The title, Swing Time, comes from the movie musical. Our narrator loves Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. It was the dancing that caught her attention, not the plots of the movies. Dancing was her early childhood escape along with her friendship to Tracey.  Their lives will be a dance.
“As a fact it was, in my mind, at one and the same time absolutely true and obviously untrue, and perhaps only children are able to accommodate double-faced facts like these.“ This quote resonates with me during our own political times and serves as a backdrop for the narrator and her best friend Tracey. Tracey is everything the narrator’s mother does not want in a friend for her daughter. They go to different schools, live in different housing projects, but share the same dance class. Tracey excels in dance; the narrator is flat footed. Tracey has a dark side to her, watches too much television, and does not show the independence the narrator’s mom expects of her daughter. It is the story of two girls and how they grew up differently and yet their lives kept interweaving.
Then the narrator meets Aimee, a huge music star, and just like that became one of three assistants. She traveled the world. Even though her life was separated from Tracey, she kept running into to Tracey whenever she return to England. They went in different directions. The narrator traveled the world as one of Aimee’s three personal assistants. Tracey followed a stage life in England and then became a mother of children by different fathers. There lives interacted in various and bizarre ways.
When the narrator’s parents divorce, the mother became a Member of Parliament. Then a strange interaction began between the mother and Tracey. The narrator doesn’t have her own life; she lives Aimee’s life. After she leaves Aimee or is fired, she cares for her dying mother. Our narrator returns to her roots and gets her life back.
This is a love story of how the narrator and Tracey find love, family, and purpose.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

All That Man Is by David Szalay

All That Man Is by David Szalay is a surreal collection of snapshots of different people’s lives. We enter and leave in the middle of things.  Each vignette is like a bad dream where you wake up in a more tired state than when you went to sleep. They are reminders of what it is like to be a man: aimless and not in control. When a man sits in a bar in old age and reminisce about life, these are the stories he will tell and wonder how it all went so bad. He tells them to remind himself he survived to tell them and to laugh before he cries. But then he doesn’t laugh then though. They are the nightmares of everyday life brilliantly told and choreographed. “Life is not a joke.” Life is filled with momentarily lost children, sudden and unexpected and unwanted pregnancies, the mundane, the ruts, the missed opportunities, the mistakes, jail, stolen money, and con artists.
“Yesterday he experienced a sort of dark afternoon of the soul.” This is the theme of the novel or of the lives in this novel.  Nine men who are reaching, grasping for straws as their lives unfold and they have no control. It is their own fault for not paying attention or for just not participating in life or for being distracted by non-life aspects and in the end they are like the character in Shakespeare’s Ages of Man. Many get to the point of so what, what else can happen. The novel grabs you in the pit of the stomach, twists, and doesn’t let go. There is a haunting beauty about it, though. It is a man’s novel about men. It reaches to the core of men, exposes so many truths about commitment or lack thereof, to loneliness or just being alone, to self expectations and failure even when no failure exists. It should be a depressing novel, but it is not.
“I was an idiot. End of.”

Monday, March 6, 2017

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Nutshell by Ian McEwan is Hamlet in the womb.  It’s Shakespeare. We know the story. A woman, Trudy (Gertrude) is married to one man, John Cairncross (British spy), and then takes her husband’s brother, Claude, as her lover. They kill the father of the child in the womb. This story is told from the womb.
This baby will be born with wants. He learned about wants in the womb as the mother indulged him with wine, too much wine, podcasts, and talk radio ad infinitum. He will be a precocious little brat, like the original, because his genes inform us of this fact. He has learned eloquence, reasoning, and what to expect while in the womb absorbing all, especially the relationships between his mother, Trudy, and the two men in her life, John, her husband, and Claude, his brother her lover. I loved all the Hamlet allusions. The baby avenges his father’s murder. Birth is chaos while life is seeking order.
Another Hamlet inspired novel is Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike. It tells of why the pair has to murder Hamlet the king. It is a great prequel as is this gem, Nutshell.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby

The Pericles Commission by Gary Corby is the first of the Athenian Mysteries.  Nicolaos, a twenty year old who just finished his military duty, ephebe training, has a dead man with an arrow in him fall from the sky dead at his feet. The man is Ephialtes the father of democracy in Athens. Ephialtes is Pericles’ hero and Pericles hires Nicolaos as his agent to find out who murdered Ephialtes.
Life in Athens is interwoven into the story. We learn much about the Agora, the marketplace, while Nicolaos seeks information and Colby provides us with information about what life was like in ancient Athens. Colby adds fun with Nicolaos having a younger brother, Socrates who thinks too much. Nicolaos wants to be a politician and not a sculptor like his father.
What makes this book so much fun is how much we learn about ancient Athens and the way it was back then. A delightful way to learn history and the politics of this new thing called democracy, the rule by the people.
“There is what a man says to a mob to avert a riot, and there is what a man does for the good of Athens.” Says Pericles.
“And what, then, if the murder was done by Xanthippus (Pericles’ father)?” Says Nicolaos.
“Him I would prosecute.”
“Because your father is a conservative, and Archestratus is a democrat?”
“That’s right. Welcome to politics, my new advisor.”
I had thought Pericles a good man, and now I realized he was a politician like the rest of them. I was deeply disappointed.
This is one of the most interesting and fascinating series of historical fiction. Colby is providing an in depth look at ancient Athens in 450BC with all the main characters of the time and the key addition of Nicolaos to be our guide and narrator.
“Ah yes, Pericles’ little attack dog. I’ve heard of you.”
“That was not the most flattering description of me I’ve ever heard! I marveled at the different views of me going about. First the influential young politician from Telemenes, now the dog from Lysanias. And still I thought of myself as a mere investigator looking for a chance to show what I could do. As the philosophers say, no man can ever truly know another.”
We are learning all the ways and mores of the time and seeing the intricacies of how life was back then as well as being shown the birth of democracy. We are learning about the homes in Athens, the shops, the inns, the law, and the families of everyday Athenians. An interesting and fun character is Socrates, Nico’s little brother, who thinks too much and is warned it will be his downfall and yet he is key in Nico’s thinking his way through the case. This is so much fun, I can’t wait to continue in the series and watch where Nicolaos and Diotima’s flirting goes from here.
The Author’s Note is the denouement and proper way to end this fabulous historical tale, based on fact with a twist of fiction for our enjoyment and entertainment. Corby has used actual facts and details to serve as the foundation for this novel. He has taken a few items from the future of ancient Greece to help him with much delight to the Athenian crowds and for us. This is the ay to learn ancient history.