Sunday, December 11, 2005

You Wanna Listen to What on C'mas Eve?

Hello Drieser Fans!

Sorry I haven't made any posts lately. I know it's difficult to navigate the early years of the 21st Century without seeking insight about a chronicler (Mr. Dreiser, not me) of the early years of the last century. I guess I could claim that I've just been too busy! That's a good excuse, plus you could infer that I have really important things to do. My blog adviser - one of the best in the business, and I mean that, this chap actually gets paid for writing a blog - tells me that one shouldn't let a blog get stale, that posts should be frequent. That's advice I try to follow.

So, a few things first: RE on Christmas eve... take note of a note that was sent to me a week or so ago. Don't want to listen to "Here Comes Santa Claus" or one more rendition of "Up on the Rooftop"? Well, try something happy - tune into the Metropolitan Opera's performance of the new opera - "An American Tragedy!"

The opera will be broadcast on the radio on Dec. 24 at 1:30 p.m. Check the Met's Web site to see if your local public radio station will be carrying it. If you live in the Cincinnati area, I'm told that WGUC will broadcast.

You know, I can't help but think about how Clyde ignored Roberta on Christmas eve. Was there ever a more heartbreaking telling of someone being stood up, abandoned? Roberta, completely alone, with a present for Clyde, waiting, hoping that what was happening wasn't really happening at the rich people's holiday soiree. Roberta peering into the dark night and winter, trying to avoid a crushing but inevitable sense of having been used. I don't have a copy of the novel and it's a good thing. I don't know if I want to be reimmersed in the pitiful sense of hope that fills Roberta with life - for a while. Remember, it's just a novel. But that's what makes D so great - you have to keep telling yourself that. CLYDE AND ROBERTA ARE JUST MADE UP! THEY DON'T REALLY EXIST!

Among family members who pretend to stay interested in my Dreiser commentary I have said that much of D's writing - particularly Tragedy - makes me think of a Mahler symphony. Kind of difficult, you know? A lot going on. Not too happy for a long time. But then suddenly some magical melody jumps out of a dark muddle of twisting gloomy tones; it can be a dance or a folk tune or birds whistling in the woods. And then the rest of the instruments catch up and pure bliss races along until, well, you know it's gonna happen - some tuba signals that the devil and all the mean people are back and poor melody gets slammed and trapped by fate and whatever else just makes people want to cry. Now that I think about it, D and Mahler were writing/composing at about the same time... Hmmm, I think there's a link; those fellas might have been IMing each other.

I finished The Titan. A great second part of the Cowperwood trilogy. The last 100 pages or so were brilliant. Characters, color, conversation, reporting, places, politics, commentary jump out of the text. I don't think it's all under control, though. The final events of the novel seem somewhat random, almost disconnected.

And - I hate to write it - but I think the final drama, as Frank tries to get the Chicago City Council to extend his transit franchise for 50 years, is dated. Think about it: Cowperwood is trying to take over the entire Chicago transit system. The image is good - the Titan will control how everyone moves around and through the city. That movement will influence commerce and industry and land values. From the top of a skyscraper, the people and machines move like ants through a controlled and predictable pattern, with wealth and power ascending to one person - Frank Cowperwood.

But most people today have never been on a bus - deliberately. A few cities have light rail and subways. Street cars? Come on, just urban gadgets for tourists - they don't carry power or the powerful. Frank's power is really last century. That's not D's fault. My comment is just that readers of today - especially young readers outside of Chicago or New York or San Francisco or Portland - might find it hard to accept that the guy who owns the bus sytem could be the equivalent of George Soros or Bill Gates. Anyway, who owns bus or rail systems? They're public entities (to a certain extent because of people like F.Cowperwood). Now, if you live in New York City and you're wondering about getting around in case the transit workers do strike... Well, there are always exceptions.

Frank's work to rebuild the tunnels under the Chicago River is very 21st century - more on that latah!

Remember, if you want a notice when this this blog has new material, send your e-mail to I'll keep all addresses confidential. But if the agent of a certain someone offers me 20Gs for the e-mail string... well, we all gotta get by...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent..."

Are you from Chicago? Are you familiar with some of Chicago's more sullied and storied events; I'm thinking, you know, like its political history? Well, maybe you know the phrase "Don't want nobody nobody sent."

The phrase references the surprise appearance of official investigators looking into shenanigans involving money and votes and access and open public processes and who gets to be in charge and why. Come to think about it, that's hardly a historical reference for Windy City politics. It's kinda timely today.

Anyway, an up-and-coming news sleuth filled me in on that phrase and it's certainly something our man Frank might be worrying about. I'm at the point in The Titan in which the Republicans just won City Hall, a significant purge of the long and profitably entrenched Dems. This purge was financed by one Hosmer Hand along with some other wealthy colleagues, with on-the-ground tactics carried out by very colorful hirelings who always have one grudge or another against any power structure.

The real goal of Mr. Hand's upheaval, interestingly, is not political power. Rather, it's revenge at you-know-who. That's right: Frank Cowperwood. And you probably know why - because Frank stole the affection of the young Mrs. Hosmer Hand, turning the elderly husband into a vengeful cuckold. Actually, this same call for retribution comes from many in Chicago. Frank moves through social circles like a tomcat.

But, now, Aileen has met Polk Lynde and there are sparks within a dangerously charged atmosphere. More on this latah...

How about that name "Hosmer Hand?" Is that great or what? What about "Polk Lynde?"

No author is better than Dreiser at creating, describing, presenting and commenting on his characters, usually presenting all of those descriptives in the same sentence, or remarkably few sentences. Consider how he expands on Polk Lynde's personality: "He (Polk) was comparatively young - not more than Aileen's own age - schooled, if not educated, at one of the best American colleges, of excellent taste in the matter of clothes, friends, and the details of living with which he chose to surround himself, but at heart a rake." Schooled, if not educated - ever meet anyone like that?

Polk's father is a wealthy farm implement manufacturer. Polk is the gilded heir; money is just to fight off boredom. Consider how Drieser sets Polk's relationship with hard work, risk, capital, labor, showing up for work everyday, i.e., reality: "He (Polk) realized that the business itself was a splendid thing. He liked on occasion to think of it with all its extent of ground-space, plain red-brick buildings, tall stacks and yelling whistles; but he liked in no way to have anything to do with the rather commonplace routine of its manipulation." A contemptuous, pompous and arrogant rake - I would say finely crafted by Mr. Dreiser.

I'm getting long-winded, so I just have to pose a rhetorical question now. As accomplished as Dreiser is at descriptions, characterization, historical recounting, psychological insight and commentary... I'm wondering after 327 pages, will the sum of The Titan be greater than its great parts?

Oh - now I'm really carrying on, but I checked the ticket prices for "Tragedy" in New York. Some sections are sold out - I think for the opening night.

Keep in touch.