Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bibliobits: Not Buying Books & Carol Edgarian's Three Stages of Amazement

Our Public Library
I promised I would stop buying books. I promised my husband and a bunch of people I don't know online.  I promised the readers of my blog.  There was much drama and cutting up of a credit card.

For awhile I kept my vow.  I browsed in bookstores but didn't buy. I was very much the woman who borrowed books from the new library downtown. 

And then my husband visited his family for a week, and I was at home watching rom-coms and reading LIBRARY BOOKS, and I realized, "This has been SO MUCH DONE. More people DON'T buy books than DO." 

So anyway I allowed myself to buy a FEW books again.

Maud Newton at her blog briefly recommended Carol Edgarian's novel, Three Stages of Amazement.  She referred us to a review in The New York Times by Janet Maslin, who said Edgarian's novel "shares a surprising amount of common ground with last year’s most argued-about novel, Jonathan Franzen’s 'Freedom.'” 

Why I decided to read this is not clear, since I'm stuck in the first 100 pages of Freedom. But the combination of Newton's endorsement and Maslin's idea that this is Edgarian's take on the recession and the Obama administration interested me.  

I very much enjoyed it, though I have a few reservations.  It's very timely, but perhaps too timely.  It is well-written, sometimes even lyrical and inspired.  On the other hand, the theme is money, its use, power, and obstacles.  I dislike yuppies.  Sorry, they're probably not called yuppies anymore, but it's hard for me to care about Charlie Pepper, a surgeon and Silicon Valley surgery-robot-inventor, who stands to make millions of dollars through his business.  Charlie has personal problems with his down-to-earth, intense wife, Lena Rusch, whom he loves, in San Francisco. Fortunately the main character, Lena, is actually very sympathetic.  A former documentary maker, she is now at home with her five-year-old son, Theo, and her preemie baby, Willa, who constantly has pneumonia and other health problems.  Lena can't get her freelance script-writing done, but she can't give up. She is passionate about her family and burdened in this new city with trying to get Theo into the right school (all that yuppie stuff). She and Charlie are in debt.  But she has integrity.  When Charlie agrees to take money from Lena's uncle, Cal, a rich venture capitalist, Lena is furious and their marriage almost breaks up over this dirty money.   While Lena was growing up, Cal refused to give  money to his sister-in-law, Lena's impoverished mother, Beverly, after the death of Lena's father.  There are also various family secrets, such as  Lena's mother's affair with Cal.  Lena knows that the very rich, like Cal and his wife, Ivy, are dangerous.  They can help you or destroy you.  One day they're on your side; the next not.  They are Democrats, but not necessarily good guys; though Al and Tipper Gore go to their parties, Cal feeds off other people's ideas, Ivy has had one too many plastic surgeries and can by bitchy about the hoi polloi,  and what these two buy is what they are.

I had a hard time making the transition from Lena and Charlie, who are regular people, if high-maintenance, to Cal and Ivy, who are just not very interesting.  They have a ton of money but what have they contributed?  Ivy plans to give all her designer dresses to the Met:  so what?  Cal has been involved with Google or something:  so what?  They don't actually DO anything.  It's all done with money.

But Edgarian does manage to flesh out this repulsive elderly couple near the end--near their death.  Ivy has moments of generosity.  Cal also can be kind.  The best thing about them is their relationship to their dogs.  They are very, very kind tot heir dogs.

There are some very moving scenes about Ivy and Cal's illness, and their changing feelings are realistically described, and, though, like Lena, I shudder at them and believe they're dangerous rich people, I saw that they must once have been human, before all the money. You can't get anywhere if you can't have money.  That's a message here. And that we all know:  SOME money is necessary.  But too much can corrupt.  So Charlie has to find a new way.  And Lena's way to earn money at the end is so hypocritical by her standards  that I'm amazed she'd agree to nepotism.  She can take money, but Charlie shouldn't have?  She can't even find time to write scripts, so how does she qualify for this job?  

So the novel is about money and irony, with the Pepper-Rusches the family with the potential to transcend the problems. 

Some lovely scenes, some stymied by awkwardness.  Edgarian has a lot to say, and I hope it speaks to people.

1 comment:

Frisbee said...

Ellen left the following comment:

Obama has something like 4.4 million and his salary is daily bringing in more. He has donated nothing of it. Talking of Wisconsin, he said "people have to face fiscal realities." Fiscal realities.

The yuppies of yore were floating proletariat; they are going to be allowed to float along no longer.