The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (5 stars)
Published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story of a woman, the narrator, suffering from depression. The treatment imposed on her by her husband is bed rest, and she is largely confined to a room with Yellow Wallpaper. Instead of easing her turmoil, deeper psychological issues manifest, and she is eventually driven mad by the confinement.
This is an utterly haunting depiction of mental illness compounded by a deeply patriarchal society that sought to protect women by limiting them physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Gilman wrote this following her own prescription – which she later abandoned after getting a second opinion. After writing this story, she sent a copy to her original doctor hoping to show him why he was wrong, but got no response. He would go on to use bed rest as a treatment for at least fifteen more years. To this day, women are still being given bed rest for a variety of reasons, even though (from what I can gather), the general medical consensus seems to be that there’s no proven benefit, and it can actually be deleterious.
In short, Gilman was right, her doctor was wrong, and this story is a haunting testimony of a time that may be long ago, but isn’t far removed from our own.
Little Man by Michael Cunningham (5 stars)
Not for the fist time (and probably not the last, either), I read a short story by an author I’ve never encountered before. If forced to tell you anything about Michael Cunningham prior to reading this, I wouldn’t have been able to. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of the guy (I should probably deviate from the science fiction and history paths I normally tread). Cunningham won both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner award in 1999 for his novel The Hours. I haven’t read that book – but I have at least heard of the movie, and those awards are nothing to scoff at.
So he’s a fairly serious literary talent.
With that in mind, this book wasn’t especially heady or difficult. It’s the retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, but from his point of view.
And I thought it was an absolute delight.
Rumpelstiltskin is 200 years old, and has never felt the love of a woman. And he wants a baby more than anything else. He hears about a prideful miller who brags to the tyrannical king that his daughter can turn straw into gold. The king then orders the girl imprisoned, and promises to kill her if she doesn’t perform her magic trick. Rumpelstiltskin sneaks into her room and makes the gold for her. He repeats this feat over the next two nights – and falls in love with the girl. She, for her part, seems to return his affection. At the end, she consents to be married off to the king for the benefit of her father, even though Rumpelstiltskin tries to talk her out of it. She does agree, however, to giver her first born child to the gnome, so that it may be raised in a loving home. The story pretty much follows the popular fairy tale.
Rumpelstiltskin is absolutely a sympathetic character, and his motivations are wholly understandable. Even if he does seem a bit like an incel.
Of all these stories, this was, perhaps, my favorite. And Cunningham’s writing was beautiful.
Escape from New York by Zadie Smith (3 stars)
In September of 2001, three icons of American pop culture – Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando – fled the devastation of New York for the relative peace of the West Coast. Supposedly. This is the story of that road trip.
I didn’t realize what I was reading until about halfway through. I’ve never read Zadie Smith before, and know nothing about her oeuvre. The story itself was okay. Not realizing who the characters were, I didn’t really like anyone. Not understanding the event described, I picked a larger apocalypse. So I was probably more disoriented than the author intended her audience to be.
Once the realization hit, however, I found the story more engaging, if not quite as weird as one would expect a cross country road trip with these three people to be.
Alan Bean Plus Four by Tom Hanks (3 stars)
I love Tom Hanks. I mean, who doesn’t? I guess I missed the point when he decided to become a writer, but I can respect it. Do your thing, man.
With that said, if this is any indication of what he’s doing – I don’t think I’ll love his writing as much as his acting. I mean, he’s capable. The writing isn’t bad, necessarily. It was just kind of underwhelming.
Four friends take a trip around the moon in what basically amounts to a homemade rocket. And…that’s pretty much it.
Not super exciting.
Miss Marple Tells a Story by Agatha Christie (3 stars)
This is the first time I have actually read an Agatha Christie story. I wasn’t terribly impressed.
Miss Marple is asked by a friend of her solicitor to investigate the murder of his wife, for which he is about to be indicted.
And it’s just….eh. She solves the case with minimal effort, and I didn’t care.
Accident by Agatha Christie (5 stars)
An ex-CID inspector sees a woman going by the name of Mrs. Merrowdene, but he recognizes her as Mrs. Anthony. She had previously been accused, and acquitted, of the murder of her husband. The inspector does some further investigation and uncovers the “accidental” death of her stepfather some years before.
I’m not going to give away the ending, but it did take my by surprise.
I’ve tried Agatha Christie a few times, but have never been able to get into her novels. After the disappointment of “Miss Marple Tells a Story”, I almost didn’t even try this one given my poor track record. It was only through persistence that I was able to find a Christie story that I liked. If I find more like this (and I’m sure there are more than a few, given how productive she was), I’ll consider myself a fan.