Finished off two books last night.
They aren’t really two books that can be juxtaposed in their meaning. However, I was struck by the skills of the two writers. I am biased toward Anthony Burgess, I admit.
His novel was a clever fashioning of the novel form into what he describes as “an Aldwych farce,” referring to the English farce of manners presented in many plays staged at the Aldwych Theater on London’s West Side.
Like one of these farce, the book is a comedy united by time and place and theme. It is a skillfully written piece of fluff that hints at the depths present in the idea of love and marriage.
The characters speak and act like actors on the stage of the mind. They entertained me and gave me pause for thought.
Kathryn Stockett’s first novel, “The Help,” on the other hand flirts with some large issues like class, race, noblesse oblige, & the civil rights movement in the USA. Stockett, unlike the formidable Flannery O’Connor, does not break out of her New York publishing house writer mold and create something that directly addresses these important serious topics.
Nor does she quite pull off a Burgess and write a light entertainment piece.
Instead she creates sort of John Grisham level of prose and plot with a girly flair. The book left me a bit queasy wishing I could have read the book within the book that the main white character, Skeeter, is writing in conjunction (and necessary secrecy) with the more interesting Abilene and Minnie about the life of being a black maid to white house wives.
As a reader my interest waned over Skeeter’s dilemmas of first dates in her twenties and continuing her adolescent relationship to her parents while living off them on their cotton farm.
When the maids Abilene or Minnie take over the narrative, the story becomes much more interesting. But here, Stockett’s style falters. She insists on writing dialect. This is dangerous territory for a best seller type writer. Stockett doesn’t seem to have the ear of a Faulkner or O’Connor (or for that matter for the English a Burgess).
I found myself reading the dialect aloud in an interior voice which is pretty normal for that sort of thing. But unlike well written dialect I didn’t marvel at the author’s ability to capture and convey something that is actually heard when people speak. Instead I noted (as I tend to do with the dated dialects of Twain and Kipling) the technique used to create a supposed symphony of speaking.
This book seems a bit more market driven than story or prose driven. That’s of course probably why it was a bestseller. Unlike Burgess, I don’t think I’ll ever find myself returning to read it a second or third time for pleasure or insight.
I am excited to be thinking about interviewing this Thursday at Grand Rapids Community College. It’s not clear for what sort of position I am interviewing. Initially Kevin Dobreff’s emails in response to my inquiries were cordial but lukewarm mentioning that they already had a pool of adjuncts.
But after I submitted my CV and filled out their forms (on which I checked every box of what position in the music department I was applying for), he emailed me and said we would talk in May.
If nothing else, this seems to have raised my morale and unencumbered my approach to my current gig at Grace. I have been feeling a bit more easy and creative and more free to comment as though I have some ownership in the gig.
This is probably also a result of the vote of confidence I felt I received last week both from my boss, Pastor Jen, and my friend and colleague, Peter Kurdziel. During conversations around how to deal with working with the children’s choir director at Grace both of these people reinforced my view of myself as a competent professional. And had constructive helpful insights.
I like that of course.
I’m wondering how my boss might feel because in the brief interim I have spoken up a bit more about some stuff at church like omissions from the church calendar and dead links on the web site. No response about any of this stuff (including my interview this Thursday) from Pastor Jen yet. But that doesn’t mean much at this stage. I try not to do to her what so many do to both of us which is engage us at multiple levels around the Sunday worship. So I didn’t talk to her about any of this at church yesterday. Instead I have been communicating via email.
Church went well. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the movements of the composition the young cellist played as the prelude and postlude yesterday. I have never heard of Henry Eccles, the composer. But I liked the quality of the writing. After a little poking around online it looks like this is his one extant piece. There’s probably more but I couldn’t find examples on line.
The cellist played well. The hoary old Anglican anthem went well. There was a train wreck in the closing hymn. One line of the music was repeated and so that there was a duplicate line and a correspondingly omitted line. I might have caught it as I played it, except that I was looking at a harmonization of the hymn in the source book and not at the bulletin. Fortunately one of the choir sopranos came over after returning from the procession and told me what was going on. I stopped at the end of that stanza. Sheesh.
Mistakes will happen and they don’t throw me for a tizzy. I do wish that I felt like others on the staff were as concerned about the accuracy and quality of their work as I am mine. It is the middle of the month and I am just now noticing that the online church newsletter is confusingly linked on the web site. It’s wrong in one place and correct in another.
I discovered this when Pastor Henry the assistant pointed out that he couldn’t attend the choir party due to the film series he is giving. I emailed him back quickly that his series was not on the calendar. He replied that it was in the newsletter so I went hunting for the info and discovered not only that his series (and another book club series at the church) was not on the calendar but that it was difficult to get from the web site to a current version of the newsletter.
Do I care?
I guess I do.
Anyway, this week’s upcoming interview has helped me not be so embarrassed that I give a shit about the functioning and stuff at my little church gig.