Mom and me. Best mom ever.
Mom and me. Best mom ever.
This review first appeared in the Albany Times Union (August 11, 2001)
Hilarious, loving characters in ‘Honeymooners’
Chuck Kinder’s first novel since “The Silver Ghost,” in 1978, “Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale” ($24; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 358 pages), is a hilarious, yet unflinching, eyes-against-the-windshield journey through years of booze, drugs, sex, friendships, lies and betrayals in the lives of a pair of promising young writers.
The freewheeling 1970s that Kinder recreates, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area, belong within the literary tradition of the moveable feast Hemingway created out of Paris in the ’20s. Kinder’s writers, Ralph Crawford and Jim Stark, live “like bold outlaw authors on the lam from that gloomy tedium called ordinary life.” Kinder both celebrates and sends up their bravura and recklessness.
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My poem Inside Infinity: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Dots Mirrored Room, Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh has just been published in Thimble Literary Magazine, edited by Nadia Wolnisty.
Check it out here.
Michelle Obama describes a scene from her first day of school in which the teacher asks each students to try to read flashcards that have color words on them, such as blue, green, orange, and white. Competitive and proud, the young Michelle reads one after another until she gets stumped on white, even though she knew she knew it. Back at home, she studies up on the color words. The next day, she asks the teacher to test her again. This time, she doesn’t stumble but gets all the words just right.
This story is extraordinary. I don’t think most students would be capable of demanding to be re-tested like that. (At least, I don’t think I would have the wherewithal to speak up like that.) In effect, her act was an assertion of self against the power dynamics of the classroom in order to bolster her own position within those very power dynamics. How was she able to do that? That question hovered over her memoir. Is this an intrinsic part of her character? Or was she taught this? I’m not sure the book answers this questions directly, though Obama also tells the story of how she jumped ahead of her piano lessons to tackle more difficult works, much to the chagrin of her teacher. She also says numerous times about how she is a list-maker and box-checker. That is she believes in herself, is smart, and likes order, and has been that way pretty much all her life. So was asking for the retest an attempt to reclaim that sense of order, by reasserting before others that how she thinks about herself is truly how she is.
A clue to that girl’s tenacity can be found in an episode much later in the memoir, which she describes as having “to use what power I could find inside a situation I never would’ve chosen for myself.” That situation was the media and public’s fixation on her looks when she was First Lady; however, that sentiment could also be seen as the kind of thought process that powered the young Michelle to ask for a new test — her power was to ask the teacher, the situation she never would have chosen was to be seen as less than capable at spelling and color words than she knew she was.
Have you read or listened to “Becoming?” Let me know what you think.
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