Doomed Couples

IGoodbye, Columbus by Philip Rothn 1960, Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus won the National Book Award.  The title story of the collection is a novella that tells of the doomed romance between Neil Klugman, a recent college graduate who works in a library and lives in a working class neighborhood in Newark, and Brenda Patimkin, a Radcliff student from an affluent family.  The differences in class, family pressures and the two young lovers slowly forming adult identities cause the relationship to fall apart.  It was one of the first books that formed what I call “The Twenty-Something Genre.”

Seven years later, Mike Nichols turned Charles Webb’s novel The Graduate into a blockbuster movie starring a very young Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, a young college graduate who is seduced and corrupted by the wife of his father’s law partner, the infamous Mrs. Robinson, played deliciously by Anne Bancroft.  The film captures 1960’s affluent society’s shallowness, best summed up in this memorable exchange:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

What one word might a contemporary Mr. McGuire whisper to Benjamin? “Derivatives”?

In the end, Ben finds redemption in the love of Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter and in the final scene we see them escaping on a city bus.  They may be free, but their future is still uncertain as revealed by the uncomfortable expressions on their faces.  As much as we want them to, I can’t actually picture them staying together.

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The Self Interview

Fred Bubbers, author

How long have you been writing?

Well, I started when I was a teenager, so I’d like to say over thirty years, but I haven’t been actively working at it all that time. I started when I was in high school, where I was editor of the school newspaper, and I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me. In college, I majored in English and had some stories published in the student literary magazine.

English Major? Very practical.

I’ll say. I graduated from SUNY Albany in 1982, which had had an unemployment rate much like it is today, and there weren’t very many entry-level jobs for liberal arts majors and I needed to make a living. I took a course in computer programing at NYU and got started in that. Getting into the software business back then was like stepping on a high-speed train just as it was about to leave the station. Computers and software just took in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and it hasn’t stopped. If anything, it’s just accelerated. Long hours, constantly trying to keep up with technology. It was very exciting. At the same time, I started a family, bought a house, and pursued the American Dream. I tried to continue writingState Street, Albany on the side, and I managed to keep it up about three or four years, but it was hard to stay focused. First of all, there was no web to speak of so the market for literary fiction was very small. I got a “No thanks, but try us again sometime” form letter from The Paris Review, but otherwise it was very discouraging to send out stories one at a time — nobody accepted simultaneous submissions back then —  and then wait for a year to hear from magazines with circulations of no more than 500 or 1000 copies.

Second, I was working in a business that was creative and took enormous amount of mental energy and focus to do well. In John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction,  he talks about the sort of day jobs that writers should have: menial jobs that let you use your mental energy for your art. Software development isn’t such an occupation. In fact, it’s probably the worst day job a writer could have. I was working in an industry that made everything I knew obsolete every two years and when not working at my job, I had to spend time studying and learning just to stay employable. Not to complain too much about it, it’s been a wild, exciting ride and I still enjoy it.

 

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4 Mini Reviews

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison ****

The Kiss by Kathryn HarrisonA very disturbing memoir about an incestuous relationship between a father and a daughter. In spite of this disturbing premise, this book is beautiful written an neither sensationalizes nor descends into a superficial rant on victimization. The author accepts full responsibility for her actions and gives us a view into the causes psychological pathologies that she eventually overcome.

That being said, the father in this story gradually reveals himself to be the worst kind of sociopath, manipulating and controlling his daughter to a point beyond which forgiveness and reconciliation are impossible.

 

Almost by Elizabeth Benedict ****

Almost by Elizabeth BenedictSophy Chase, recovering alcoholic, returns to Swansea Island after the mysterious death of her estranged husband, Will. No one is quite sure how to deal with her, not Will’s family, the islanders, or even Sophy herself.

This novel is very-well plotted and once started, it’s hard to put it down until you’ve finished. Sophy struggles to discover the cause of Will’s death, the fate of the dog they shared, and ultimately a way to handle the grief of a sudden unexpected loss. We see her struggling and reaching the end of her tether.

This book is beautifully and sensitively written and it’s emotional impact sneaks up on you, but when it does it resonates very deeply.

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