Category Fiction

Might Make Things Worse…But Give “Babette’s Feast” a Taste Anyway!

Let’s face it: we’ve got ourselves a full-on feast famine. No restaurant gatherings with their familiar bustle and clinkings and clatters. No coffee joints or cocktail lounges, brewpubs or burrito joints. No concerts or dances, recitals or readings. Big bodacious birthday and anniversary and graduation celebrations: So 2019!

And then heaping insult atop all that injury of absence, we can’t even invite beloved friends and family to gather around our freaking dinner tables for a few precious hours of conviviality. It is a sad state of affairs, and if you note a playful tone underneath these complaints, rest assured it’s just a coping mechanism: I miss the hell out of all the joys the aforementioned settings entail, and long for the day when we give the coronavirus a swift kick in the ass and plunk it into the dustbin of history.

Meanwhile, we have the consolations of memory and the nearness of winsome, joyou...

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Chaos, Perseverance, Redemption: José Saramago’s “Blindness”

Cars line up at a traffic signal while their drivers wait for the light to turn green. When it does, one car does not move. Horns honk, epithets are muttered, drivers waiting behind the stationary car finally get out to investigate, then pound on the driver’s side window.

There, they behold a man waving his arms and turning his head side to side. Then they open his door to hear him exclaim, “I am blind.”

So begins “Blindness,” the late Portuguese writer José Saramago’s powerful, wholly original 1995 novel that explores a dystopian world in which blindness descends first on the driver depicted above but in short order engulfs all but one other inhabitant of an unnamed country at an unspecified, though modern time in human history.

At base, the hearty band of seven people we follow through to the story’s conclusion stand as a towering—if humbled to the nth degree—testament to human solidarity an...

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Courage, Compassion, Action: Albert Camus’s “The Plague”

“Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything was still possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible…They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.”

***

Albert Camus’s 1947 novel, “The Plague,” has often been described by critics as an allegory for the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. One can certainly read and profit from it as such, or even make it more timely today as the drama of an inept and ill-intentioned presidential administration sowing the plague of chaos and discord upon the land.

But make no mistake, “The Plague” is also very much about the real bubonic plague that has reared its head in human history over thousands of years.

The plague’s frightfulness is largely due to the approximately 50 million people it reportedly killed...

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The Allure of Autocracy: Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”

“France has been defeated, and despite the propaganda and confusion of recent months, it is now obvious that England is losing the war. (Audience cheers loudly.) I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England regardless of how much assistance we send. That is why the America First Committee has been formed.”

That’s from a speech in Manhattan by American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh in 1940, arguing passionately against American intervention in World War II. Lindbergh’s staunch isolationism was hardly an aberration in American life at the time. Much of the country was torn about how to respond to Hitler’s German war machine that was devouring much of Europe, the massive oceans on either side of our continent making gauzy dreams of remaining above the fray more inviting than almost any other country could afford to be.

In his 2004 novel “The Plot Against America,”

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A Halloween Tribute to Hermann Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,” wrote T.S. Eliot in a poem that was not about Halloween but maybe should have been. (It might have helped lighten Eliot’s mood.) Eliot was writing more about the encounter with non-being, rather than the relatively jocular invitation to explore the dark side of human nature via America’s second most commercially prosperous holiday (trailing only Christmas in economic activity.)

Sure, Halloween is rampantly commercialized and mostly a bonanza for the candy companies and costume stores. But it also reflects a rich tradition of human beings who are not only aware of the shadow side of life, but welcome it. Even though it takes the mostly light-hearted form of costume parties, house decorations and candy for the kids.

Halloween is a chance for our alteregos to get a little attention. To take a walk on the wild side.

Spending a lot of time on the East Co...

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