The Guest Book

Susan Blake took 10 years to write her novel The Guest Book.

Yikes!

Although the cover of my advanced copy claimed this as the “New Great American Novel” I found the structure of the novel confusing, the characters stereotypes and the plot contrived. I would have abandoned it except I was reading it for a new book club that I’m facilitating.

The story was about a rich WASP family (the term WASP is used in the book itself) that suffers some tragedy early on and then refuse to take in a Jewish boy from Germany during WWII. The patriarch of the three generations shown is in finance and his company invests in a company in Nazi Germany throughout the war.

The family owns an island and big summer home there. The idyllic summer home is an idol. The book shines light on the guilt and bigotry of the family. The chapters jump from era to era and managed to both bore and confuse me.

All the characters seemed similar. One granddaughter had epilepsy and that was the mark for her character. Most characters blended into each other.

I wish I didn’t have to read this whole book, but feel as a book club facilitator I should. The guest book in question isn’t mentioned till the last 85% of the book.

I hope the next book is better.

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My Man Godfrey

The 1936 screwball comedy My Man Godfrey is witty, but I’m not so sure about this romance.

William Powell stars as Godfrey, a down-on-his-luck fellow who’s fallen financially and is living on a city ash heap, which reminded me of the ash land in The Great Gatsby. One night socialite Irene, played by Carole Lombard, rescues Godfrey from the ash heap. To help Irene win her bizarre scavenger hunt, Godfrey agrees to allow her to use him as a “forgotten man,” the last item on her team’s list. Her exclusive club has its members who’re dripping in diamonds running about the city collecting goats, bird cages, flower carts, Japanese goldfish and a “forgotten men.” These crash elites treat people as objects and Godfrey plays along out of curiosity to see how horrible these people can be.

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Though ditzy, Irene isn’t half bad. She soon decides to hire Godfrey as the family butler. She doesn’t realize how she’s still objectifying him but there’s something wise about Godfrey. He realizes what’s going on and how clueless Irene is, but he’s willing to play along because he doesn’t romanticize poverty to the degree that he thinks sleeping in the ash heap is more honorable than sleeping in a clean, heated bedroom.

From day one the family’s clever maid sets Godfrey straight. The family is bananas. The mother is a souse, ruled by her caprice. The oldest daughter is a mean snob who plots to get Godrey arrested. A human bank, the father is ineffective, long suffering, tuned out like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Finally, the mother’s protege is a human eating machine who’s willing to be a toy for the mother in exchange for a free ride.

Irene becomes smitten with Godfrey and won’t take no for an answer no matter how much Godfrey tries to set boundaries. Though all the other butlers were quickly fired or quit in a huff, Godfrey hangs in there. Yet a house party, Godfrey’s true identity is revealed when one of his former Harvard classmates recognizes him. His nemesis Irene’s sister Caroline is intrigued and starts to follow Godfrey around town.

I can’t say My Man Godfrey will become a favorite. While I appreciated the insights and depiction of people who fell in status during the Depression, the two sisters were immature and catty. That’s no surprise because the mother also was an overgrown child.

Screwball comedies are supposed to be silly and over the top. In this regard, the film is a success. I am glad I saw it, but the end didn’t win me over. Perhaps if Irene changed more, perhaps I’d think better.

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Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday 456 : 9 February 2019

The image above inspired me to find photos of people cooking. Here’s what I found.

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Source: Library of Congress 

Pratt Institute Cooking Class, 1915. Preparing men to cook for the army and navy.

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Source: California Historical Society, n.d.

Label, Virden’s Pure Lard.

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National Library of Ireland, 1896

At Adar’s Bakehouse in Waterford, Ireland.

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Source: Miami University Library, 1913

A domestic science class Ohio State Normal College.

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Source: Florida Memory, 1949

At a round up.

 

The Rules of the Game

Rules

I had to watch The Rules of the Game under strange circumstances. My DVD only would play the film with the commentary going. Thus I read the subtitles and once in a while got a snippet of dialog without English commentary. I prefer first viewings without the expert’s take, but perhaps in this complex film the commentary was best.

 

Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game depicts two parallel classes, the upper middle class and the servant class. From the bourgeois Christine, Robert’s Austrian wife has disappointed her would-be lover Andre, an aviator who’s just completed a round the world journey. Andre gets no satisfaction from the clamoring crowd or the inquisitive press. Christine didn’t come so the whole flight was for nought.

Christine’s been in her Parisian home with her husband Robert and her maid Lisette. Robert’s tiring of his lover Genevieve and Lisette’s tired of her husband Schumacher. All are leaving for the countryside where a web of relationships will tangle creating a fine mess pulling the film from farce to tragedy with a surprise ending.

Renoir saw WWII coming. He also saw his society drunk on frivolity, careening over an edge. The Rules of the Game is a rare film that begins with light-hearted, harmless fun, but ends with broken hearts and a tragic death. The characters who all play at love see the consequence of their erroneous worldview.

The film is beautiful and many scenes are complex dances. Renoir was ambitious to offer such sophistication and it wasn’t till decades after it was made that The Rules of the Game was considered a masterpiece, one of the finest movies of all time.

If you think you’ve seen the actor playing Robert before, you have. He was ran the roulette table at Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

I’ll definitely watch this one again.