Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Through a glass darkly

I read Wicked years ago during a cold, gray New England winter. And as part of a fundraiser for Approve R 74, I finally saw the Broadway musical... on a cold, gray, unusually torrential Seattle autumn evening.

The book intrigued me with its nuanced stories of power and oppression in Oz. It was a dark tale, but it was spun with great skill and creativity.

A musical, however, must have a happy ending -- that's what all the song-and-dance cheesiness is about. And it did, in fact, so drastically deviate from the book that it's better to think of them as different stories altogether.

Unlike the book, the heart of the play is the friendship between Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (the Good Witch). The vocal talents of the two main characters are amazing. (I had "Defying Gravity," which I've only ever heard on Glee, stuck in my head the entire day before seeing the show.) Most of the story takes place during their time at boarding school. And the musical only touches tangentially on issues like the Wizard's oppression of the Animals and the slavery of the Munchkins. The main theme of the play is seeing the alternate views in everything -- in official histories, in standards of beauty.

I've always loved musicals, and this was no exception.

Sacre Bleu had a similar "alternate history" take, though in no other way can it be compared to Wicked. Like he did with Fool, Christopher Moore tells a story from a different perspective in Sacre Bleu. 

From Vincent Van Gogh's death to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's debauchery, Moore spins a weird but slightly interesting story about Art, artists, love, and inspiration. In increasingly kooky plot twists, Moore's story revolves around the color blue,  the idea from the Renaissance that the "sacred blue" was reserved only for depicting the Virgin Mary's cloak, and the old-fashioned sexist saying that "All women are the same."

Like Fool, I liked the first half, when everything was still a mystery. I enjoyed the mystique of art and the blue and the source of an artist's genius. By the middle of the book, when it became apparent that an immortal pimp and his companion Muse, though a bizarre regeneration ritual, are supposed to be the source of all artistic brilliance,  I ceased caring about the characters themselves and just wanted the damn book to finish.  Like Fool, there was too much casual bonking for me to take it seriously. I know seriousness is definitely never the point of any of Moore's books (and I've liked some of his campier books in the past), but I was disappointed with the last half of this one too.

One book I couldn't force myself to finish, however, was The Marriage Plot. I couldn't put down Jeffrey Eugenides' absolutely riveting, Pulitzer-winning Middlesex. And I liked The Virgin Suicides. But his latest book was kind of a disappointment.

Maybe because it's about two recent college grads trying to get over university crushes, spread their wings, and find themselves. But I just couldn't relate to it. It seemed like a book version of St. Elmo's Fire, which I also didn't love.  I got about halfway through before I realized I didn't care if the two main characters ended up together or not, or how much philosophizing they did on their journey to discover whether or not they should end up together.

When it comes down to it, I have little patience for stories about post-college angst. I think I'm just getting too old, and the kids need to get off my lawn!

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