Friday, August 17, 2007

Grief: Serious Humor

While Grief is a powerful novel on a serious theme, grief, and how difficult it is to get over it, it is important to note that there is more than a touch of humor in the novel that coexists with the darkness, much of it referring to aspects of gay life. The landlord observes that gay men are "fickle," changing "their decor more often than their gym." He remarks that it's not easy being an "aging actress." At parties, he notes, "everyone was wearing the same sweater and the same shoes, and all of them looking for someone who did not exist." Death, and, in particular, the deaths of so many lost to AIDS is, of course, serious business. When the narrator reflects on a friend who died of AIDS, whose mother he visits, there is, however, some humor in the fact that his friend had sought to maintain control during his life, protecting himself from the sun and even using a mind control method for discipline; who should, seemingly, have been less likely to meet such a death? The narrator takes the experiences of Mary Todd Lincoln in her grief very seriously. But when he discusses her tears after a cup of tea is accidentally spilled on her the landlord remarks that it would make a great scene in a movie. The narrator's obsession with Mary Todd Lincoln indicates how seriously he takes his own grief over his mother; but, without providing a spoiler, the ending of the book, as startling as it is, could almost be the punchline of a joke.


Anonymous said...

Holleran's book turns out to be an overlong rumination on loneliness and age. It's poorly glued together with snippets from the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln that are only distinctive by how poorly they meld with the narrator's own life. Overall, it's wildly uneven, an idea that should have been delivered as a straight more formal essay, but is instead shoe horned into an uncomfortable novelistic format. Characters seem to drop in and out to deliver their own ideas on loss, but never do the coversations seem to have risen naturally. What he (Holleran) is really writing about is loneliness resulting from age and the lack of love. Had he managed to insist that this is a universal theme, rather than claim it for his tiny world of Washington, it could have been a touching book. Is it just a minor disappointment?

Melissa said...

I'll agree that some of the narration and dialogue had a stylized aspect (intentional, I thought), but overall I think this book wouldn't have worked as nonfiction. Even though I don't live in Washington, still feel no connection with Mary Todd Lincoln, etc., the story and main character did resonate with me in a way that a straight essay wouldn't have (even though, as I said in another comment, I did feel somewhat removed from his grief).

How do you think Holleran could have "insist"ed that it was a universal theme? I'm not being critical of your reaction, but I think "showing" is generally more effective than "telling," as the writing teachers say, especially when the topic is something as interior as mourning.