Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
by Frank Miller
read: 2015

Throughout Dark Knight Returns, there's a running argument about whether Batman does more good or evil for society. Miller takes pains to make the characters espousing both sides of the argument look like idiots, letting them voice closed-minded or naive thoughts in the same breaths with which they render their opinions on Batman. But he also makes sure that both sides have a point. Obviously Batman stops a lot of crime and criminals, but he also inspires the Joker to come out of retirement and kill hundreds. Commissioner Gordon (and ultimately his successor) ultimately feels it best to look the other way, but it's a murky decision.

I have same complaint about Miller's Batman that I do about the Christopher Nolan movies: when he's causing destruction at a massive scale, it's ridiculous to continually point out that he doesn't kill people. He kills bunches of people.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pale Fire

Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov
read: 2015
Time 100 NovelsModern Library #53, Guardian 1000 Novels

Pale Fire has a unique structure, with the novel told in footnotes to the titular poem. The commentator, Charles Kinbote, serves as an unreliable narrator, believing that the poem is a tribute to his homeland of Zembla and the tales he told poet John Shade about his native land. We're meant to laugh at Kinbote's naivete, in part, but I think there's a compelling point here about the baggage that readers bring when interpreting works. The author's intention matters, certainly, but the audience for art is always bringing its own perspective and experience.

I don't find the story of Kinbote, Shade, and John Gradus really compelling in and of itself apart from the metafictional gimmick. There's some interesting guesswork as to whether Zembla is real, whether Gradus planned to kill Kinbote or Shade, whether Shade and Kinbote were really friends, etc., but it's an intellectual exercise rather than an emotional one: I don't really care what the answers are.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

All Aunt Hagar's Children

All Aunt Hagar's Children
by Edward P. Jones
read: 2015

I couldn't find a master list of parallels between Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar's Children, so I put this reference together (not exhaustive):

Lost in the CityAll Aunt Hagar's Children
1The Girl Who Raised PigeonsIn the Blink of God's EyeLitC: Robert considers abandoning his daughter after his wife dies in childbirth. AAHC: Ruth finds a baby abandoned in a tree.
2The First DaySpanish In the MorningBoth stories describe a child's first day of school
3The Night Rhonda Ferguson Was KilledResurrecting MethuselahBoth feature a character named Anita, presumably the same woman (with AAHC story coming after). Main characters are both students dealing with death
4Young LionsOld Boys, Old GirlsMain character of both stories is Caesar Matthews, with AAHC story coming after
5The StoreAll Aunt Hagar's ChildrenPenny (grocery store owner) appears in both stories
6An Orange Line Train to BallstonA Poor Guatemalan Dreams of a Downtown in PeruMarvella and her children appear in both stories, with her daughter Avis featured in the AAHC tale
7The Sunday Following Mother's DayRoot WorkerMaddie appears in both stories
8Lost in the CityCommon LawAAHC story takes place earlier, with Lydia a young girl and her mother Cornelia and Georgia about 30
9His Mother's HouseAdam Robinson Acquires Grandparents and a Little SisterA Joyce appears in both stories. Both have a theme of raising children that don't belong to you, and of the destruction of drug culture
10A Butterfly on F StreetThe Devil Swims Across the Anacostia RiverBoth stories reference Mansfield Harper and deal with theme of infidelity
11GospelBlindsidedBurned-down church and Revered Saunders from LIC story mentioned in AAHC
12A New ManA Rich ManElaine Cunningham appears in both stories
13A Dark NightBad NeighborsBeatrice Atwell appears in both stories
14MarieTapestryGeorge Carter records life histories of main characters of both stories

One has to ask: why does Jones do this? From a literary standpoint, I think it adds depth to the characters and the world - they have life outside the 20 pages or so in their stories. Minor characters in one tale become major characters in another. This feeling that minor characters have their own rich, interesting stories to tell is present in Jones' novel The Known World as well. Aside from the literary reasons, there's a sociological / historical reason for Jones to set up the connections he does: the effects of slavery, Reconstruction, and institutional racism have reverberated throughout American history, and the thematic and literal echoes in Jones' tales reinforce those reverberations.

AAHC takes places largely in Washington D.C., but the setting is contrasted to the rural life that African-Americans left behind in the rural south during the migration to urban centers. In Root Worker, for instance, a middle class doctor learns herbal medicine from a "root worker" in the North Carolina town her parents came from. Jones is interested in the tension between Southern roots and modern progress, and AAHC is consumed with it.