Sunday, November 2, 2008

disreputable history and art


This time of year seems to invite more reading than writing, and some watercolor painting, as appears here. Most of my reading has been in short stories, but also a few YA, and some Indian-American, and Asian novels. I've spent only small amounts of time revising my earlier short stories, and hope to get a couple of them in shape for submitting in the coming months.

I recently finished "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks," by E. Lockhart, a YA novel. I've always been attracted to stories with a prep-school setting, ever since the powerful experience of reading, as a young boy, "Tom Brown's School Days," by Thomas Hughes. The Disreputable History has nowhere near the tension and drama of Tom Brown, but it has some nice writing, character development, and harmless, if not sophomoric, pranks carried out by a males-only, secret society. Frankie, a spunky young woman, newly endowed with a terrific body over the previous summer, falls in love with one of the boys in the society. She manages to penetrate the secrets and inner workings of the society, and uses phony email messages to commandeer their programs.

The story is told generally in third-person omniscient, though at times Lockhart projects the reader into the mind of Frankie in some long passages, so that it seems like a first-person narrative. Frankie, and a less affluent, scholarship student at the school, a friend of Frankie's boyfriend, Matthew (can't remember his name), comprise the better developed characters in the story. Frankie can be maddening to a male reader, this one, anyhow, with her urgent need to know everything Matthew thinks, or the relationship is going nowhere. Still, she's engaging, and inventive. She goes a little overboard on her use of 'neglected positives,' like describing someone as ept, her presumptive opposite of inept. Frankie tells us in several places she's Jewish, which I thought might enrich her character further, but Lockhart leaves it to us to imagine how. I like ethnicity in characters, and sometimes use Irish connections in my writing.

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