The Graduate – 4/5 Stars
Benjamin Braddock is home from college, en route to grad school in the fall, and experiencing an excruciating cocktail celebration at his parents home. He just can’t seem to tell them that he doesn’t want any of the things he worked for, has no plan for what to do or what this means, and also doesn’t know that he’s about to throw himself into a nice little destructive spiral. He see Mrs Robinson at the party, still pretty attractive for her disturbing old age of like 43, and agrees to drive her home, where she offers to have an affair with him. He panics, her husband comes home, and Ben runs away to go “on the road” for a few weeks, where things don’t go great. When he returns, he begins the affair in earnest, and he continues to spiral through the summer. At the end, he breaks off the affair, tries to get himself together, and apparently falls in love with Mrs Robinson’s daughter. You have to decide how serious any or all of the feelings here are.
I think plenty of people hate this book, and I get it, I think. I feel that enjoying this book depends almost entirely on just how sympathetic you think the book is for its languishing protagonist. If you think the book is very sympathetic, then you probably wouldn’t like the book. If instead, you think the book is being both critical and ironic in its affection for its protagonist, then the book is a lot more enjoyable. I happen to think that Charles Webb has some shame and embarrassment for Benjamin Braddock. It’s not as cutting as Edward St Aubyn or Philip Roth, but I also don’t think it’s as self-serious as some of the other reviewers have made it out to be. He’s a hapless fool with no direction, no real guidance through his feelings or goals, and untreated depression at a time when only “crazy” people went to psychiatrists. He’s wrong for the world and trying desperately (and I think hilariously) to fix it.
South of Heaven – 4/5 Stars
This feels almost like a proto-crime novel for Thompson, whose other novel range in quality from the just ok to the very very good. This is just ok, and I think part of it is my own fault. I think film distribution rights, and movie theaters in the 1940s and 1950s are really interesting, and that kind of comes through here a little, but there’s a lot less of a feeling of Thompson using that interest to weave and work through the plot the way he does in other novels. It’s instead almost arbitrary that these figures work in this field at all. The novel is still perfectly readable, but feels less well formed as a consequence.