Tag Archives: book review

This Audition may be a flop

I can’t say I would have normally picked this off the shelf, but a friend offered me a nice fresh hardcopy version of Barbara Walters’ memoir. Surely, I thought, it would have some tasty bits. How could it not, with such a career?

Walters initially thought of titling her book Sister, since her only sister Jacqueline “was unwittingly the strongest influence in my life.” It’s a tale that many siblings relate to, at least if the virtual shelves of Amazon.com are any indication (search “the normal one” if you’re interested in this subject).

Unlike today, where kinder labels are arguably rife, Jacqueline’s label was “mentally retarded.” I’m not yet half-way through the book yet, but so far, this element in Walters’ life is proving to be the most compelling, so perhaps she really should have called the book Sister.

Instead, she called the book Audition. It is a reference to Walters’ sense that she always had to be auditioning for social acceptance since her father’s career keep them moving from one place, and school, to another.

I feel like I want to finish this book … see if there are any fascinating tidbits shared about her famous political and celebrity interviewees. But I keep stalling. One reason is purely logistical: I only read in bed and the hard cover is heavy for my now-sore carpal tunnel-ridden hand to hold.

The other reason seems to be a bit of stubborn defiance on my part. As in, “I’m not going to read this book on principle.” And that’s because a section of the prologue keeps poking at me the wrong way. I keep wondering … Did she really write that? Did I misunderstand what she was trying to convey? Did I just not “get” it right?

So, my dear blogosphere friends, I am looking to you to give me the answer.

I don’t want to bias you, so I will just provide you with the section as it appears in the book with no following commentary from me.

Before I end this prologue, let me tell you a story. Back in the sixties, when I was appearing daily on NBC’s Today show, I was living on Seventh Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. My apartment was across from Carnegie Hall and on the corner of a very street. It was also near several large hotels that catered to businessmen. Perhaps because of this, the corner was the gathering place for some of the most attractive “ladies of the evening.” Each morning at five o’clock I would emerge from my building wearing dark glasses, as I hadn’t yet had my makeup done, and I was usually carrying a garment bag. It seemed obvious to the “ladies” that there was some big “number” I had just left. Now, bear in mind that, even then, I wasn’t a spring chicken. But I would emerge and look at the young ladies, some of whom were still teenagers. “Good morning,” I would say. “”Good morning,” they would answer. And then I would get into this long black limosine with its uniformed driver, and we would glide off into the early morning light. And you know what effect all this had on the ladies?

I gave them hope.

Perhaps this book may do that for you.

Edited to add: As of August 31st, this entry is now cross-posted here in the Blissful Buzz section of Blissfully Domestic.

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Wasted Beauty

Wasted beauty

Like a dog with a bone, I’ve been racing through Eric Bogosian’s three novels and raving about them on this blog. The first one I came across was his most recent, Perforated Heart, while the second one I read was Mall. Sandwiched in between these two, he wrote Wasted Beauty (2005).  

All three novels focus on American culture, and I think it’s safe to say it’s a fairly scathing perspective. Or as Hillary Frey says, “this is the stuff of ugly American living.”

Do you hear a “but” coming? Okay, here it is … But I’m not sure I like all this ugly anymore. I do like “dark.” Dark is delicious. However, I think Wasted Beauty leans more towards “bleak.”

It focuses on two people. Reba, who at the age of 20, is left parent-less, penniless and without hope for the future:

Reba digs out an icy brick from the freezer and runs hot water over the pink and yellow slab of frozen flesh, letting it soften under her thumb. Above her head the rolly-eyed Felix-the-Cat clock swishes his stiff tail, marking time, second by second. The fridge growls just as Frank’s car starts up outside. So that’s that. I will swab the green and dirty-white linoleum tiles, thaw and fry the food, sponge Billy’s [her brother] pubic hairs off the toilet, iron his work shirts. And I will stand behind a counter at the bank all day, just like Mom did. I’ll take my cigarette breaks, a half hour for lunch and all the peppermints I can eat. Maybe someday I’ll grow a few tumors of my own. (p. 6)

A stumbling series of events find her in the big city, and working as a highly successful professional model. Okay, I know you’re thinking, “that sounds like a happy ending.” No, no, I’m afraid we’re heading into very dirty territory here — heroin addiction. An addiction described so well that you can almost feel the heavenly highs, as well as the sickly lows.

Rena’s life ends up intersecting with Rick’s, a doctor going through a major mid-life angst session. He, like Rena, doesn’t hold much hope for the future:

Just get on that old conveyor belt of life, pal, enjoy those golden years and reserve your space in the assisted community (with the attached Alzheimer ward), where you will wander anonymous corridors until you lose your mind completely. Senile and incontinent you will lie in bed day after day after day, a few photos of unrecognizable grandchildren taped to the wall beside you, TV set aflicker, a world spinning on without you. (p. 132) 

I’m 156 pages into Wasted Beauty, and I know I’ll keep on reading until the very last word. I have this gnawing feeling though, one that I didn’t get from the other novels, that all this achingly talented writing (“beauty”) might bring me no where worthwhile (“wasted”).

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MALL

As you might have guessed, I gave up on Edward. He and his little Twilight entourage did nothing for me. I felt bad just dumping him, especially when he was supposed to be so sexy and all. But, hey, c’est la vie. Us middle-aged women don’t have a whole lot of time to waste.

So, I’ve moved on to Eric. As in Eric Bogosian. If you clicked on that link, well, there’s no denying that he’s no pretty boy like Edward. But his mind is deep. And dark. (Plus, there’s always this picture, which is far better.)

Yeah, I did mention dark, didn’t I? Okay, so you’re forewarned. I raved about his most recent book Perforated Heart here. I loved that book so much that I thought I should chase down all his books and gobble them up. He’s well-known for his monologues and plays, but his first novel was MALL, published in 2000.

Mall 
Bits from the inside dust jacket:

An outrageous novel about five suburbanites whose lives intersect in one violent and life-altering night — at the local mall. In this, his first novel, Eric Bogosian delivers a dark, hilarious and biting commentary on an American culture fraught with sex, drugs, violence and congested thinking.

 

Reading this novel was like watching a really well-done suspense film. You want to turn away because you just know something bad is going to happen, but you just have to keep watching to see how it all blows up in the end.

I’m no book reviewer, so I’ll leave you with a summation from John Casey to tempt you into trying out this book:

“MALL is a fast wild ride from Chapter One — big acceleration through all five gears. What makes it a lot more than an action story is the series of swift shrewd psychological sketches of characters who happen to be at the wrong mall at the wrong time. You might think Pulp Fiction and you might think Ben Jonson and you’d be right both times.”

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