Tag Archives: lit review

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

I subscribe to Vogue, and I do so for the fabric and the writing. I’ve read a few great books based on their recommendations. Unfortunately, Single, Carefree, Mellow is not one of their great recommendations, and it serves as a reminder that, while Vogue has some great writers on their staff, the book mentions in Vogue probably have less to do with their keen eye, and more to do with commercial demands.

image from amazon.com

I sympathize though because Single, Carefree, Mellow is probably what would happened if I set out to write a popular, commercial, plot-driven novel about single women. In fact, I’m sure it’s much better than anything I could muster. Still, it’s bad.

First, the writing: much of the description does nothing to move the plot forward or deepen meaning or character. It seems to only serve the purpose of “my writing teacher said good writing has lots of description so I’ll add some here.”

Next, the themes: these characters are weirdly detached and casual about cheating, destroying marriages, and are either morally corrupt *in uninteresting ways* or disconnected from their real wants and desires *in uninteresting ways*.

To be fair, lately I have been really sensitive to moral corruption. The last few years have been so tumultuous for me that I have craved security, stability, and people who are who they say they are–people who are straightforward about their motives. As a result, my tolerance for books and shows that delve into vapid characters, driven by quick and easy gratification, is at it’s lowest.

The Orgy by Muriel Rukeyser

It took me months to finish The Orgy: An Irish Journey of Passion and Transformation by Muriel Rukeyser, and I have to start by saying this: for a book with “orgy” in the title, there is actually very little sex. If you read the book, you’ll think that was funny because this is not a sexy book. This is capital “L” Literature. You know–a thinking piece.

image from books.google.com

A well-respected friend recommended it to me, and I tried and tried, and it never really took off, and that’s because it’s not a book that “takes off.” It’s poetry. I mean, it’s prose, but it’s basically poetry in terms of accessibility, sound, rhythm, and so forth. (Rukeyser explains here.)

For several months, both The Orgy and Thich Nhất Hanh’s How to Love* lie prone in my living room . I’d forget about them, and visitors would come over and raise their eyebrows at the display. Now I find it amusing, but at the time, I remember feeling embarrassed. The titles convey two really different messages. And, in hindsight, not entirely unrelated to my summer. (There were no orgies! Sheesh!)

As for Rukeyser, the book was meaningful in the sentences, but not so much the big picture. The book is about the author’s (semi-autobiographical) journey to the Puck Fair for one of the last pagan festivals of it’s kind. That kind of premise holds so much intrigue for me. I was hopeful for deep description and weird plot points and characters. But nope. It’s not really that kind of book.

Instead, we are gifted with subtle sentence level gems and an overall sense, but nothing concrete, as is the way of good capital “L” Literature, and that’s fine. It’s fine. IT’S JUST THAT I THINK WE WERE ALL EXPECTING A BIT MORE IN THE ORGY DEPARTMENT.

Here are a few lines for continued consideration:

On walking through shit: “I thought, joy and release is it! and put my foot down slowly, gained an inch, and slipped” (69).

“[T]he book compared peace with monogamy” (91).

On the infant cry: “It is the most profound and powerful force in nature” (102).

“Though they may kill, killing is not their aim…” (103).

“verbal arabesques” (114).

“Nicholas began to relax; it was as if he remembered his whole life, and unwound” (115).

I’ll just end by saying that it really gives there toward the end. Stay with it, if only for the poem entitled “The Balls of the Goat.”

*Thich Nhất Hanh’s critically acclaimed, and I really liked his Be Free Where You Are, and wrote about it here, but he’s phoning it in on How to Love, so there will be no blog post on that one.