martes, 27 de marzo de 2012

The Touchstone

The Touchstone (Hesperus Press, 2003)
by Edith Wharton
USA, 1900

I don't know if I've ever called a novella "too long" before, but what the heck, The Touchstone, tag, you're it.  Dud 92-page morality tale in which the then soon to be super famous Edith Wharton spends an exasperating amount of time laying out the emotional decline and fall of one Stephen Glennard--a petulant NYC dullard who has nothing better to worry about than his decision to profit from the sale of a mass of personal letters written to him by one Mrs. Aubyn, a deceased famous novelist who was a one-time love interest.  The problem?  The publication of the letters, secretly authorized by Glennard to be able to afford to install his lovely new bride Alexa and himself in a home on the path to connubial bliss, becomes the talk of the town, making Glennard increasingly aware that he's betrayed a confidence for the sake of commercial and romantic gain.  To add insult to injury, perfect wife Alexa refuses to judge her high maintenance husband for his failings even after she discovers his part in the Faustian transaction.  Wharton writes OK--as many of you already know--but the sparkling prose and the occasional insight into the male vs. female marital dynamic only go so far when paired up with infuriatingly one-dimensional characters and a manipulative ending that could have been scripted by fucking Oprah of all people.  In short, an American "classic"! (Hesperus Press)

Edith Wharton

13 comentarios:

  1. Richard, this may drive the current "classics" discussion right off the road. Sounds like a not so thrilling tale of what an acquaintance of mine would call "rich people's problems."

    And - Edith Wharton? Aren't you supposed to be busy reading La Celestina or something? :)

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    1. I might have succumbed to the prankster temptation again, Scott, but I don't expect anybody who's hopped aboard our classics joyride of late will be all too bothered by the sudden swerve in direction. Most of the Classics Club people are navigating by a different GPS anyway! Speaking of classics, "rich people's problems" = a criticism gem. Please thank your acquaintance for providing a good secondhand laugh for me!

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  2. Yeah, I seem to remember Ethan Frome being about 90 pages too long! - One of the novels I liked, The House of Mirth.

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  3. Ethan Frome is totally worth it, though, for the hilarious ending. Ker-smash! Ha ha ha ha!

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    1. I don't remember the ending. Perhaps I never got there.

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    2. *Obooki and Tom: Thanks for weighing in on The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome. I'll keep the former in mind and then decide if I want to find out what happens at the end of the latter.

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  4. You're in serious need of a post moderator. Chuckle.
    I was worried that by the time I come back to post my comment there would be a mile long threard as to whether it is appropriate to use the f word on a classics post. But maybe... Muzzle on!
    Somehow it's less fun to comment... I feel like I've travelled back in time and landed in the former DDR.
    I quite like Edith Wharton or at least the books I've read so far. I'm in the mood to read the House of Mirth soon. I'm not a fan of Ethan Frome but agree with Tom about the ending.
    This one doesn't really sound very...

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    1. Thanks for the laughs, Caroline, but I have to tell you that if I'd thought out the implications of using the f-word in a "classics post" earlier on, I might have dropped two or three more f-bombs just to jazz up the discussion! Please don't muzzle yourself--you're among adults here. As far as Wharton goes, do you have a favorite of hers so far to recommend? I liked her prose in general but was just very disappointed with the one-dimensional characters.

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    2. I liked Mme de Treymes, a novella and The Age of Innocence.
      Ethan Frome is depressing.

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  5. Please do rip books apart more often, your post made me chuckle! Point taken, I shall avoid "The Touchstone", if not Edith Wharton altogether.

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    1. Bettina, thanks for the motivation--I'll try and read bad books more often so I can honor your request! In the meantime, I'm willing to give Wharton another try with one of her more celebrated works. Cheers!

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  6. Hi, Mr. Crusty. Thanks for the laugh. You know I really liked this one with the exception of the ending which I chose to view as ironic rather than a last moment fail on Wharton's part. Actually enjoyed what an asshole the protagonist is, felt for the dead woman but wondered about unlikely love, and rolled around happily in the language. Will you be following this one up with another Wharton read?

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    1. Hello Woolfie--how funny you dropped by just in time for one of my least well-behaved posts in a while! Just like old times, eh? I should probably reread your post on The Touchstone one of these days b/c I remembered you liking it except for the ending but didn't really remember what had grabbed you about it in any detail; what you say here is a great reminder, of course, but I wish Wharton had spent more time on the dead novelist stuff and less time on what an asshole Glennard was since Mrs. Aubyn was way more interesting in absentia to me than the male K-Lav Glennard was in the flesh. More Wharton? Sure, eventually, but I'm undecided between The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence at this point. Any advice? P.S. Really great to hear from you--hope the work stuff is still going well for you these days!

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