Smirky Millennial Nihilism: Middletown by Will Eno

There are some things that are not meant to be recycled. Waxy cardboard milk cartons. Used paper plates. Our Town by Thornton Wilder.

Like a well-intentioned but intoxicated fraternity brother who puts the used paper plates in the recycling been where they do not belong, Will Eno in Middletown attempts to recycle Thornton Wilder’s 1938 classic for the urban millennial set.

It doesn’t work. Instead, Eno sucks the charm and generosity of Wilder’s Grover’s Corners, leaving Middletown’s Middletown a soulless place. Continue reading

Beckett’s Bones in Shakespeare’s Sandbox: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard

If you haven’t read Waiting for Godot, stop everything and do it now.

No, seriously.

I’ll wait.

Without Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett there is no Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Stoppard is indebted to Beckett for the skeleton of his play. Two men talk, wait. The occasional visitor disrupts the status quo, but only until they depart. The two men go on waiting, playing games, contemplating their existence. Continue reading

Anchors Away: Master & Commander by Patrick O’Brian

The year is 1800 and Jack Aubrey is master and commander of His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie. But he is neither the master of the sloop — that is Mr. Marshall — or a true post-commander in line for promotion to Admiral. Indeed, the Sophie is not actually a sloop – for she has two masts, not one – but is nevertheless called a sloop by the Royal Navy.

In the wind-powered world of the Napoleonic British Navy, seamen described their ships and surroundings in a dialect all their own. Patrick O’Brian in Master & Commander narrates in this vernacular. Though challenging to the uninitiated, the novel breathes with authenticity: to describe the sails and maneuvers of the Sophie with any other language would do a disservice the harsh beauty and nuance of the seaman’s life. Continue reading

An Espionage Oddity: Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Call Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene an espionage thriller. Call it a political satire. Call it a character study. All of those are accurate but best of all it’s a Monty Python sketch stretched to novel length: absurdity and that straight-faced, dry British humor thrive from the colorful and sunny Havana streets to the underground London headquarters of the British Secret Service.

Wormold is a struggling vacuum cleaner salesman. His daughter, Milly, desires a horse and a country club membership and who is Wormold to say no? But Wormold doesn’t have the money until a bewildering encounter in a men’s restroom. He knows nothing about spying but suddenly he is MI6’s man in Havana. Continue reading