Monday, October 02, 2006

Rococo by Adriana Trigiani and The Known World by Edward P. Jones

ROCOCO is a fun, breezy book that was a little frustrating. I read THE BIG STONE GAP years ago for work and enjoyed it. ROCOCO takes place in a small wealthy New Jersey town by the shore during the 1970s. Our protagonist is Bartolomeo di Crespi "aka B" who is the most famous interior decorator in town. His company is called "The House of B." He was a wacky family and is distraught when the local priest hires an outside firm (Wasps from Philly) to renovate Our Lady of Fatima.

I subscribe to a bunch of shelter magazine and love shows about design but Trigiani goes way overboard with the descriptions. I don't know a single man gay or straight who gets that turned on by trim (no pun intended. I'm talking about fabric). The biggest problem I had with the book was B. He did not ring true to me at all. She wrote him as a very flamboyant gay man but yet tell us he's straight. Okay. Toward the end she implies he might be bi.

Nobody in this small town thought it was strange that at 40 he was still engaged to a woman he never went out with. This is the groovvy 70s not the Eisenhower 50s. I didn't feel like I was back in the 70s or in a small Italian-American town by the "shora". We moved to a town just like this in the mid 70s (we were close to NYC not the shore). I liked how close the family was and how they all looked out for each other. There was some romance and some laugh out loud moments. I read Mario Cantone did the audio version and was hilarious.

THE KNOWN WORLD by Edward P. Jones. This book won the Pulitzer in 2004 and there have been many comparisons to Morrison and Faulkner.

A young screenwriter I had a meeting with, told me it was one of his favorite books. He sent this book to me as a thank you. It had been on my list and I was excited and touched to receive it. This was not an quick read. There are many well developed characters and the story is non-linear at times.

Jones sets the story 20 years before the Civil War in the fictional county of Manchester, Virgina. Augustus Townsend has bought his freedom from William Robbins, the most powerful and richest man in the county. Eventually, Townsend is able to buy his wife and his son's freedom as well.

His son, Henry, buys his own slaves and runs a successful plantation. When he dies, his widow Caldonia, is not as disciplined and things quickly fall apart.
This book was difficult to read at times. How could Henry purchase slaves? His father was devestated when Henry told him.

The book is about the Townsends, Robbins, the slaves, the sheriff, the patrollers and every single person who is touched by this "most peculiar" institution.

There is something that happens to Augustus that is heart breaking. I know this is fiction but things like this did happen. The sheer inhumanity and disregard for another human being is something I cannot understand.


JCinNYC said...

Hi Arlene,

I actually wanted to comment on your previous entry and tell you how poignant and touching I thought it was. There are so many reasons to write - to share, to unburden, to explore, to vent, to remember, to honor. And certainly to help us understand that which is confusing and maddening and sad. Perhaps in the process we find some truths, whether simple or profound, that make us a little wiser and forge connections that make us a little less alone in this crazy-ass world. With that short entry, I think you did that for your readers (at least this one) - and that ability in itself is a powerful reason to keep on keeping on with your pen (or keyboard, as the case may be).

I am so sorry to hear that your father is sick. It's clear how much you love and adore and your family and I know it must be very hard. At the same time, it's also clear how strong and resiliant and close-knit your family is and I know that will carry you through.

To end, I'll bring this back to where I started by mentioning two books by Pema Chodron - "The Places That Scare You" and "Start Where You Are". They're written in a style and tone similar to your previous entry. Profound and powerful yet also totally accessable and practical. I think anyone would benefit from checking them out (maybe some of your blog readers already have) but I really think she speaks a lot to the issues you (and so many of us) are dealing with. You're always giving us great ideas for books to read, so, since it seems relevant, I thought I'd toss it out there. That's it for now. Hope all is well and I promise to get to your latest draft as soon as the "soap" clears!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Thanks JC for the thoughtful post. I'm so glad we were able to catch up when I was back in NYC. I will check out the books.

I'll call you soon.