I finished both the books I was reading, and they were both great. Deathbird Stories continued to stun me, spinning a world that I didn’t want to leave. I mean, I wouldn’t want to live there, but the stories were awesome. Only one, Bleeding Stones, was too graphic for me to read, I ended skimming over it as the violence was just too much for me. What’s somewhat suprising is that the first story, The Whimper of Whipped Dogs, is also quite violent, but I absolutely loved it, and thought that it worked perfectly as an entry to the visceral world that Ellison created. The story that follows it, Along the Scenic Route, has a Bradbury feel to it that made me very comfortable. My other favorites were O Ye of Little Faith, The Face of Helene Bournouw, and Ernest and the Machine God, but I realize as I try to pick which are my favorites that I really like them all for different reasons. They hit so many different tones that I appreciate them each differently. (And I use the word different a lot. Here, I’ll use it some more.) I get the feeling that when I read it again my favorites will be completely different, as different things jump out as important.
I also finished Everybody was So Young, and the experience of reading it was like finding a missing puzzle piece in my contextual understanding. As I mentioned before, it’s the biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy, a marvelous couple who were part of the “Lost Generation” in 1920s expatriate France. They were wonderful people, and friends with many of the important creative people who came out of that time and place. They inspired the characters of the Divers in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, were the ‘rich people’ Hemingway wrote of bitterly (and completely unfairly) in A Moveable Feast, and were the family that Dorothy Parker went to Switzerland with instead of finishing her book. They were friends with Cole and Linda Porter, helped Serge Diaghilev with his ballets, were drawn by Picasso, and were the inspiration for Archie MacLeish’s Pulitzer Prize winning play JB. I’d read about them in passing as I read the biographies or works of these other people, but reading about them and their lives, and how these other people fit into it was fascinating.
As I said, the Murphys were marvelous people. They were stylish and charming, but more importantly, genuinely kind and compassionate people. They threw themselves into supporting their friends, emotionally and monetarily. Even at the detriment of their own financial stability, if someone asked them for money they didn’t hesitate to hand it over. They routinely sent Hemingway and his wife money, saying that they had no use for it; when Fitzgerald spent a year drunk instead of working and didn’t have sufficient money to pay his daughter’s tuition, they wired him the money even though they were struggling to pay for their own home. They had beautiful children who they doted over, two of whom died tragically of illness far before their time, but all the same they never became bitter, reaching out instead to their friends.
Even when those friends seemingly turned against them, they forgave (sometimes after a while- they were only human after all), and continued to support them. Fitzgerald’s novel was hurtful because it had the character based on her leaving her husband for a someone very similar to Ernest Hemingway who in real life was in love with her, and had the character based on Gerald falling into failure and despair (not because of the addition of Zelda’s madness to Sara’s character as I previously thought). Hemingway’s mocking portrayal of their support in A Moveable Feast (There is Never Any End to Paris) was really unfair. He relied heavily on their support throughout his career, and his attempt to rewrite his past was painful to them. MacLeish’s modern telling of the Biblical story of Job drew heavily from their experiences, he even named Job’s wife Sarah, and the disintegration of the marriage that he ends the play with was hard for them. I can only guess that the reason these friends decided to turn against the couple who had so unconditionally supported them was that they seemed to be blessed, and above it all. They masked their pain and suffering, and really seemed to be a golden couple, having everything and suffering nothing. Maybe they felt the need to take them down a peg or two- I don’t know.
It was a pleasure to read about these fantastic people. I wish I had known them, and am grateful that they were such a support to the writers that I appreciate so much. Now I want to go back and read all the references to them that I can find!
Current total: 21
Just Finished: Everybody was So Young by Amanda Vaill
Next Up: I have no idea!