I wanted to write a few short reviews of three of the books.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Despite my feelings towards organized religion, I liked this book. I appreciated the symbolism and heavy foreshadowing. John Irving often writes dark satire, and this work was no exception. It was a sad book, parts were very sad. Irving is an astute observer of human nature.
I loved the irony of the main character's grandmother, who denounced television at every opportunity; but when she got a tv, she watched it all the time. She spent her time vociferously commenting and criticizing everything she saw.
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
I didn't realize that Evelyn was a male writer. I'm familiar with Evelyn as a female name, so that was my first assumption. I don't think it changes my experience of the novel whether or not the author was male or female.
I think this was a banned book because it hints at a gay relationship among some of the main characters. I was disappointed that Sebastien ended up an alcoholic and homeless. If Sebastien was gay, as is aluded to, the novel follows the classic pattern for gay characters.
Many people have written about this before, but typically gay characters (pre-Stonewall) could not be portrayed as being happy, well-adjusted and successful. LGBT characters could not ultimately find love or find acceptance. So in that sense, although a product of the time, I found that part of this novel disappointing.
Rabbit Run by John Updike
I have to admit, David Foster Wallace wrote a great review of John Updike's Toward the End of Time. It's no secret that I admire Wallace's work.
I think I fit straight into this category that Wallace observed:
Most of the literary readers I know personally are under 40, and a fair number are female, and none of them are big admirers of the postwar G.M.N.'s.[Great Male Narcissists] But it's Mr. Updike in particular they seem to hate. And not merely his books, for some reason-mention the poor man himself and you have to jump back:
"Just a penis with a thesaurus."
"Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?"
"Makes misogyny seem literary the same way Limbaugh makes fascism seem funny."
These are actual-trust me-quotations, and I've heard even worse ones, and they're all usually accompanied by the sort of facial expression where you can tell there's not going to be any profit in arguing or talking about the esthetic pleasure of Mr. Updike's prose. None of the other famous phallocrats of his generation-not Mailer, not Frederick Exley or Charles Bukowski or even the Samuel Delany of Hogg -excites such violent dislike. There are, of course, some obvious explanations for part of this dislike-jealousy, iconoclasm, P.C. backlash, and the fact that many of our parents revere Mr. Updike and it's easy to revile what your parents revere. But I think the major reason so many of my generation dislike Mr. Updike and the other G.M.N.'s has to do with these writers' radical self-absorption, and with their uncritical celebration of this self-absorption both in themselves and in their characters.
I have to agree. I'm sure this novel has been critiqued in the past from a feminist perspective.
But the female characters of Rabbit Run in particular lack any depth. Each fits neatly into the Madonna/whore dynamic (where women are either mothers or whores, not able to be anything but). In this work, each female character can't be seen as an autonomous character in their own right, they are devices for Rabbit to learn more about himself. Chanson wrote about the manic pixie dream girl, a similar concept here. Each of the female characters (even Rabbit's mother and mother in law) seem to be stuck and simply react to Rabbit and his choices.
I had some sympathy for Rabbit at first, but he continuously makes bad decisions - and his bad decisions are more about avoiding responsibility and ownership. A great example, he refuses to let his girlfriend use birth control, and surprise! she gets pregnant.
I find it hard to believe that Updike is serious about this protagonist (taking a cue from Lolita). If he was serious about Rabbit, which Wallace seems to think that he was, it's true that the children of the 90s see all this self-centered thinking very differently.
There is a whole series of Rabbit books, which I have no desire to read. Particularly is they are anything like Rabbit Run. Of all the banned books I've read, this is one I don't recommend. I don't agree that it should be banned, but it's difficult to defend the novel as a worthwhile read.