Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Magnificent Ambersons Pt. 1- Cranky men and Awesome jokes

After a little over 100 pages in (with another 400 to go), I have to say I am pleasantly surprised with this novel. The plot that seems to be taking shape sounds incredibly dull (a rich, spoiled, arrogant kid who has gotten everything in life way to easily begins to fall in love with a poor, but down to earth and extremely kind woman), but a wonderfully sarcastic and extremely witty sense of humor saves the entire ordeal. It reminds me of the stuff I have read by Oscar Wilde, except it actually relates to something, unlike Wilde's obnoxious (yet admittedly skilled) word play.

My favorite segment, which describes the initial meeting of George and the love interest, Lucy Morgan, and exemplifies the humor involved- "Age, often confused by its own long accumulation of follies, is everlastingly inquiring, 'What does she see in him?' as if young love cam about through thinking- or through conduct. Age wants to know: 'What on earth can they talk about?' as if talking had anything to do with April rains! At seventy, one gets up in the morning, finds the air sweet under a bright sun, feels lively; thinks, 'I am hearty today,' and plans to go for a drive. At eighteen, one goes to a dance, sits with a stranger on a stairway, feels peculiar, thinks nothing, and becomes incapable of any plan whatever. Miss Morgan and George stayed where they were." Wonderfully sarcastic with just a touch of curmudgeon-ness.

The book opens up with almost two entire chapters filled with the narrator complaining about how things used to be so much better in the old days. I imagine the narrator being an omnipresent old man, sitting on a porch and bitching about every single thing around him. The rest of what I have read has don't nothing but to reinforce this idea. The great part about this is that the book was written in 1927 and set in the 1910's (I think), so what he complains about hits an extremely amusing generational gap. Instead of complaining about how the world was better before cell phones and email, which is slowly merging into complaining about facebook and *cough* blogs, the narrator gives his opinion about those damn trolly cars, yearning for the olden days of horse drawn carriages. Everything in those damn trollys moves too fast for the narrator, and no one stops to dance anymore. My favorite complaint: "The 'aesthetic movement' had reached thus far from London, and terrible things were being done to honest old furniture."

The notion of things being better when trolly cars weren't here, or when people wore simpler hats, strikes me as fairly profound. It's a mindset that will just never stop existing. The mindset exists now, then, and will in the future, and I can't see myself managing to escape this. My father has, over the past years, refused to learn his cell phone number, meaning he will never actually have to answer a call (since no one knows how to call him, including himself), and if old sayings are correct, this is my fate with only the type of technology changing.

Another section of the novel goes on to explain that "[The townspeople] were thrifty because they were the sons and grandsons of the 'early settlers,' who had opened the wilderness and had reached it from the East and the South with wagons and axes and guns, but with no money at all. The pioneers were thrifty or they would have perished: they had to store away food for the winter, or goods to trade for food, and they often feared they had not stored enough- they left traces of that fear in their sons and grandsons." As often with older novels that live through the ages, it speaks to people even when the details become anachronistic and this passage of a frugal nature seems to mirror the generation that entered the great depression (I remember my grandfather used to take his leftover soup and put it back into the pot when he was finished). I wonder if we are about to hit this generation again with the economic recession raging on.

In terms of character/plot, the majority of the beginning fifth is dedicated to young George Amberson Minafer (the emerging "protagonist" of the story) terrorizing the town on a white pony, yelling insults at all those around him with those around him yelling insults right back. Mostly this consists of barking out a pointed "pull down your vest" or "wipe off your chin." I have no idea how these are insults, but I love them dearly regardless. At one point, a hardware store owner screams "turn down your pants, you would-be dude! Raining in dear ole Lunnon! Git off the earth!" Again, no idea, but I'll try my best to work these into my own vocabulary. Calling people an A-hole has gotten rather drab, so I think an expansion of insults is in order.

I'm worried that the book is in the beginning stages of a nose dive, but as long as it remains sarcastic and slightly mean towards those damn youngins, I'll remain amused.

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