Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Dubliners' by James Joyce


James Joyce’s short book The Dead: The story of Gabriel and Gretta; of a strained Christmas dinner; the ghost of Michael Furey; repressive Dublin; and Gabriel’s spiritual awakening. Joyce fans will recognize all of these as part of this great novella, part of the classic collection, “The Dubliner,” published in 1914.

While attending Trinity College in Dublin, I gobbled Joyce and exalted him to the level of Shakespeare and Milton. But too many readers today don’t look upon the classics with favor. Big mistake. “The Dead” is a short and easy read, and is packed with action, even though its events are contained to one holiday party, a buggy ride, and a hotel room. It’s a great autumn book. How can you read the following, which is the last paragraph of “The Dead” narrative, and not recognize Joyce as a revolutionary writer?

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Good, good stuff.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It’s Halloween: Get your ghoul on


You have to wonder what evil lurked in the mind of William Peter Blatty. Author of the epic horror novel "The Exorcist," Blatty managed to get under the collective goose bumped skin of millions of readers when the book was released in 1971. Literature and cinema was never the same.

The book is based on a 1949 exorcism of Robbie Mannheim that Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at (Jesuit and Catholic) Georgetown University.

Every year at this time, I dust off my dog eared, coffee cup stained copy of The Exorcist and get my literary ghoul on.

The demon Pazuzu. Father Merrin. Regan MacNeil. Father Damien Karras. Levitating beds. Pea soup. Readers of the book and lovers of the movie will recognize these icons of American literature (and cinema). Authors have tried to match Blatty’s achievement, but none have succeeded. The Exorcist is and will always be the penultimate horror novel. No matter how many times I read it, and it’s been many, many years, I still check under the bed before lights out.

What an excellent day for an exorcism.