Monday, March 08, 2010

Virago Revival and Movie Stars Behaving Badly

I'm having a "Virago revival" at my house, catching up on 20th century women's literature. I have to breathe the air of the century I belong to: not the 21st but the 20th. I have a huge stack of Viragos acquired from the Charity Book Sale, most set in the early- to middle-20th century, and E. Arnot Robertson is my current favorite. A few years ago I read her Four Frightened People, a very peculiar novel that A. S. Byatt recommended one year to the Washington Post. It was a weird survival story of four middle-class people who jumped overboard on a cruise because people were dying of smallpox or something. Jungle survival: one fat woman deserted by the others. Isn't that always the way? It was well-written but didn't particularly grab me.

I'm halfway through Robertson's Ordinary Families, a masterpiece, beautifully written, the story of an outdoorsy family devoted to sailing, but pushed beyond their desires and abilities by their heroic, athletic, charming engineer father. Sixteen-year-old Lallie Rush, the narrator, is frankly terrified when she has to race in a regatta during bad weather, and her brother, Ronald, tries to drop out of his race when the other competitors do so, but both are urged on coldly by their fearless father. To get revenge for the pointless competition, Ronald mischievously pushes their youngest sister, Margaret, to insist she sail in a race where everyone else has dropped out. Although the children win their races, Father is furious: he had handicapped his children so others would win. And the oldest daughter, Dru, who has grown fat as she rebels against her ex-femme fatale mother, is embarrassed when she has to give a speech at a luncheon after all their wins, thinking they'll believe it's some weird nepotism.

Lallie, a devoted bird-watcher, loves animals, but doesn't understand society, particularly their next-door neighbors, the Cottrells, an intellectual family who faintly despise the "buccaneer" Rushes. Her fascinating reports on their lives and conversational tics are mixed with her confusion about the subtext of their anti-religious, pro-sexual, political ideals. In a way she reminds me of Portia, the narrator of The Death of the Heart. Not as vulnerable, though.

No idea where this is going, but it's great.

I watched the Oscars last night. There were many complaints at our house. My husband groaned when the director of The Hurt Locker dedicated her Iraq bomb squad movie to, yes, the men and women in uniform. Or did we mis-hear that? I felt embarrassed. I'm sure she meant it, but it sounded so phony. I mean it's an action movie--with intellectual overtones, or something. The scenes they showed looked absolutely awful.

George Clooney sat in the audience looking irritated by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin's silly jokes. Why? Was the Toyota joke un-politically correct or something? Repeated shots of his despising Martin and Baldwin. Today Entertainment Weekly has whitewashed it by saying it was all part of the joke, but one wonders. It really didn't look like a joke.

Sandra Bullock started off classy and then went bipolar-Gen X on us. She made a very odd remark in her speech about thanking people who had treated her well and people who had been mean to her, like George Clooney, who had thrown her into a pool, and she added that she still bore a grudge.

We're all thinking, What? Is she chiding him for behaving badly at the Oscars? Does she hate him?

And, yes, ha ha ha, this is all a joke, too, we learn today. He did throw her into a pool at a party. Tom Cruise was also involved.

Well, you know what--it wasn't funny.

Here's the thing. We want the people at the Oscars to behave like--Steve Martin! Yes, he's the classiest of them all.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Great post - and I like the Virago/Oscars combination!

Thanks for sharing


verity said...

I've really not got into Arnot Robertson at all; I've read both of the two that you mention. I need to read Cullum for my Virago challenge and am wondering how I will get on with that.

Love the covers you feature :)

Frisbee said...

Hannah, I try to leave movies out of my posts because I have so little to say about them, but the Academy Awards are just too much fun.

Verity, I hate to tell you this--but I didn't like Cullum much either! Yet I'm enjoying Ordinary Families so much. I'll have to give that one another chance someday. Why didn't Virago print any more of her books?