Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Bell Jar

Another book scratched off my "things I should have read in high school or college but somehow didn't" list. The Bell Jar probably wasn't the greatest thing to read after all the seriousness and suicide-talk in Richard Yates. But sometimes you get stuck in a theme and all the books you pick off the shelf seem to reflect one another. I started to pick up Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted a few days ago, but stopped myself. What is it about fall and winter that makes you want to read depressing material? Why are all the Oscar pictures shown in the dead of winter instead of the summer? You'd think we would try cheering ourselves up in bleak weather by watching/reading a bunch of fluff, and save the drama for the beach. Maybe I should read another of those zombie/classic lit mash-ups to lighten the mood.

From the The Bell Jar:

...I imagined Buddy saying, "Do you know what a poem is, Esther?"
"No, what?" I would say.

"A piece of dust."

Then just as he was smiling and starting to look proud, I would say, "So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you're curing. They're dust as dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a whole lot longer than a hundred of those people put together."

And of course Buddy wouldn't have any answer to that, because what I said was true. People were made of nothing so much as dust, and I couldn't see that doctoring all that dust was a bit better than writing poems people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick or couldn't sleep.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

And I'm not sure why I like the passage below so much. Maybe because I could see it sitting completely by itself, without the context of the rest of the novel, and still making sense. Or maybe it's because I love the phrase "silver and full of nothing".

"I'm so glad they're going to die."

Hilda arched her cat-limbs in a yawn, buried her head in her arms on the conference table and went back to sleep. A wisp of bilious green straw perched on her brow like a tropical bird.

Bile green. They were promoting it for fall, only Hilda, as usual, was half a year ahead of time. Bile green with black, bile green with white, bile green with nile green, its kissing cousin.

Fashion blurbs, silver and full of nothing, sent up their fishy bubbles in my brain. They surfaced with a hollow pop.

I'm so glad they're going to die.

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