Myra Breckenridge repels and fascinates

Eponymous Myra Breckrenridge is as repellent a character as you’d ever not want to meet.

And she’s absolutely fascinating.

Photo collage of dictators with overprint.
Myra believes her life mission is to realign the sexes.

Gore Vidal presents Myra’s story as her confidences in her diary, written as therapy on the urging of her dentist and analyst, Randolph.

Myra is in Hollywood to attempt to get money she believes owed to her by Buck Loner, her late husband Myron’s uncle. Buck had built a flourishing acting school on land willed jointly to him and his late sister, Myron’s mother.

Buck says he’ll get his lawyer on it; meanwhile, he invites Myra to join his faculty to teach courses in Empathy and Posture.

Myra and Buck set out to swindle each other without dropping the pose of family bonding.

For 20 of her 27 years, Myra in imagination cast herself as a the female lead in films she saw while growing up. But Myra doesn’t want the subservient roles: Myra hates men, and she’s determined to dominate them.

Despite his heavy hand with satire, Vidal makes the transgender Myra believable and human.

I didn’t like Myra the person or Myra the novel, but I felt I did something necessary and respectful just by exposing myself to Myra’s perspective.

Myra Breckenridge by Gore Vidal
Little, Brown, [1968] 264 p.
1968 bestseller #7. My grade: A-.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Traditional values triumph in Marjorie Morningstar

Marjorie Morningstar is a bittersweet novel of a beautiful Jewish teenager whose theatrical ambitions and moral principles collide.

Marjorie Morgenstern’s decision to be an actress is an act of adolescent rebellion.

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Doubleday, 1955. 565 pages. 1955 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

At 15, Marjorie has good looks, enough talent to shine in amateur theatrics, and enough sense to avoid promiscuous sex.

Front Dust Jacket of Marjorie MorningstarShe hasn’t enough sense to see that Noel Airman, born Saul Ehrmann, is a loser: smart, talented, sexy, personable, but rootless.

For six years, Marjorie pursues Noel, who warns her he’s not the marrying kind, and the theater, which is equally unwilling to have her on any but sexual terms.

Marjorie isn’t willing to give up her virginity for an acting role, but to get Noel she might.

Herman Wouk sets Marjorie’s story between the Depression and World War II. Without preaching, Wouk makes clear that survival depends on maintaining traditional values—marriage, family, work, religion.

Although Wouk uses stock characters, the story works because Marjorie is so young.

Adults know what will happen to Marjorie, but she doesn’t.

She makes herself believe she is consumed by passion. In truth, she’s simply too embarrassed to admit a mistake.

Marjorie Morningstar is good reading—and highly recommended for parents and grandparents of teens.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Nothing about Black Oxen Is Plodding

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The years like Great Black Oxen tread the world
And God the herdsman goads them on behind.
—W. B. Yeats

From it’s title, I expected Black Oxen to be a story of rural life. From its, author, Gertrude Atherton, I expected a fireworks plot that fizzled after a brilliant beginning, as her 1921 Sisters-in-Law did.

I was hopelessly wrong on both counts.

Lee Clavering, a young New York drama critic, is intrigued by an attractive, obviously European woman attending a bad opening night performance.

Clavering’s cousin says the woman must be the illegitimate daughter of Madame Zattiany, née Mary Ogden, a New York socialite with whom he and the city’s most eligible bachelors were in love 30 years before. The lovely socialite married a Hungarian diplomat, from whom she was later estranged, then widowed.

The mystery lady’s lawyer—one of the long-ago suitors of Madame Zattiany—refuses to be pumped by his friends. The mystery makes the lady even more attractive to Clavering.

Alert readers will figure out the mystery long before the besotted Clavering does half way through the book, but nobody could predict what Atherton will do with the story after that.

Black Oxen‘s extraordinary characters behave in totally plausible ways as she explores issues of generational differences, ethics, marriage, international politics, medical research, sexuality, and human motivation.

The well-crafted plot is enhanced by peripheral episodes whose irrelevance to the plot lends a strong sense of reality. And Atherton combines lyric prose with razor-sharp dialogue.

Black Oxen will knock your socks off, stand you on your head, and make you wonder what hit you.

Black Oxen
by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
A. L. Burt Co., 1923
Illustrated with photos from the screen version
1923 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg ebook #25542

© 2013 by Linda Gorton Aragoni

Selfishness Bred by The Sheltered Life

In The Sheltered Life, Ellen Glasgow tells a story about a girl who grows up in the early 1900s “without coming in touch with the world.”

When Jenny Blair Archbald scrapes her knees roller skating, Eva Birdsong’s laundress, Memoria, patches her up. George Birdsong, Eva’s handsome husband, swears he won’t tell Jenny’s mother she was in the colored section of town if she won’t say he was at Memoria’s house.

As she grows into her teens, Jenny has no interest in boys her own age. She adores Eva Birdsong while fantasizing about Eva’s husband.

Victorian style American home
What lies behind Victorian facade?

Eva knows all about George’s weakness for women, but insists he loves her. He does care enough to try to protect her from being confronted by evidence of her affairs.

Weakened by the emotional stress of keeping up appearances, Eva is despondent after “female surgery.” George takes her away to recuperate.

Jenny is young and pretty, but she’s not innocent, only naive. Her sheltered life has kept her from knowing the destructiveness of selfishness.

When the Birdsongs return, Jenny throws herself in George’s way. The results are disastrous.

In the final chapter, Jenny sees her motives stripped bare, while her family clings to the deception that she’s young and innocent.

The Sheltered Life
Ellen Glasgow
Doubleday, Doran, 1932
395 pages
1932 Bestseller #5
My Grade: B+

Photo credit: “Victorian home”  uploaded by andrewatla

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni