Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'll Take Manhattan

Tea at the Plaza, ice-skating in Central Park, the Met, having cocktails high in the sky; these are just a few of my favorite things about growing up in Manhattan.  Then there’s my fantasy version of New York from all the old 1930s movies where beautiful women in flowing silk gowns and handsome men attired in tuxedos led fabulous lives in Penthouse apartments overlooking the Park.  I sigh as they sashay from one glamorous place to another or, on a lark, find the local hidden bohemian jazz club where they dance and drink the night away.    

It does make me wonder if any of these people worked and, if they did, how they functioned on all that alcohol?  Look at how Nick Charles always solved the murder in "The Thin Man" series.  And did you notice how they all still looked fabulous after consuming so much?  Just wondering…

Still, I've always loved the Hollywood fantasy of the more whimsical aspects of Manhattan.  Since I no longer live there and am not required to deal with the more mundane aspects of the city, I’ll take the fantasy.  Maybe that’s why I was attracted to Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, a story of how the glittering life in 1938 New York changed the lives of a circle of friends. 

The tale is revealed by Katey Kontent.  She is a smart, sharp gal in her mid-twenties who lives in a women’s boarding house in lower Manhattan and rooms with the beautiful Eve, a well-off party girl from the Midwest.   It is New Year’s Eve, 1937, and the girls meet Tinker Grey, the good looking, well-to-do, well educated son of old money who works for a bank on Wall Street and three hit it off. 

Soon after, a car accident throws everyone into a spin and there begins the story of 1938.

A few other interesting characters enhance the story.  There’s Widow Anne Grandyn, an old friend of Tinker’s mother and a kind of godmother to him who Katey runs into at key moments throughout the year.  You just know there is more to her than meets the eye.  Then there is Wallace, a quiet, somewhat shy, wealthy man, who is Tinker’s old schoolmate.  He is a gentle sort who balances some of the brashness of the other characters.  

We romp through 1938 New York with Katey while she runs with both the high society crowd and the bohemians.  Somehow, Katey still pursues her career dreams.  Though she takes some big chances, she is able to use her quick wit to get ahead.  But not without learning some of life’s more challenging lessons.  

This story of character and class comes complete with hidden agendas and duplicity.  And then there's Tinker Grey.  Just how many playboys do you know who read Thoreau?

Still, I enjoyed it immensely.  New York sparkled and there was enough of the fairy tale for me to overlook the faded allure. 

So, I’ll take 1930’s Manhattan for $1000, Alex…


Monday, November 7, 2011

Bedtime Stories

Last week my book club met to discuss Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence.  Since it was my suggestion, it was also my turn to facilitate.  As always, the ladies had strong opinions, some hating it, most just thinking it was a bit slow and boring.  We all agreed that it certainly wasn’t one of his best books; we thought Women in Love or Sons and Lovers were both much better.  Though it is better known for its notoriety, the story rambles on about the class system and the industrialization of Great Britain.  The characters were fairly weak and one-dimensional; we never got to know them well enough to like them. 

Most surprising was the controversy that surrounded this book and the worldwide obscenity trials it spurred in the late fifties/early sixties; frankly, the trials were way more interesting than the author’s idea of passionate sex.  The book club ladies didn’t think much of Lawrence’s version of what women think about or want in that area.  Certainly, at the time this was written, what was considered obscene is much different from what it is now.  Even so, others, like Henry Miller, were writing far more interesting sex scenes than what Lawrence put out.  Keeping in mind that my Dad occasionally reads this blog, all I can say is you got it wrong DH! 

Did I happen to mention that this book was recommended to me by a male friend; I guess I’ll have to cut him a break since he probably hasn’t read it in 40 years.  Besides, how would I know enough to have an opinion if I hadn’t read it? 
One does wonder what those same censors would think about some of the offerings around today.  The current popular fiction for women (aka soft porn) generally falls into two broad categories, hunky vampires and hunky eighteenth century Scottish warriors, with the occasional werewolf thrown into the mix.  

Hmm, that does make me wonder what that says about us.  

J.R. Ward writes the Black Dagger Brotherhood series which starts with Dark Lover.  Lots of large gorgeous vampires who find and fall in love with equally gorgeous mates; when not battling evil, they seem to be having lots of intense (and well written) sex.  For the Scots, we have Diana Gabaldon.  Her Outlander series focuses on Claire, a twentieth century doctor and her eighteenth century Highlander warrior, Jamie, during very turbulent times in history.  While the sex in the Outlander series is not quite as graphic as it is in the JR Ward’s series, Gabaldon still seems to get it right.   

Isn't it curious that both series were written by women and both get it better than DH Lawrence did?  I’d say something but then, as I mentioned, my Dad could be reading this. 

Though is a large hunky vampire god what women really want?  Somehow I doubt it.  I think most woman really just want a nice guy they enjoy spending time with, both in and out of bed; someone with a kind heart and a good sense of humor.  And, well, if he could communicate too, that would be cool.    

Still, the hunky warriors are a fun read, certainly more fun than Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  And isn't that what we all want in a good bedtime story?