Sunday, August 23, 2009

Drew Barrymore is a Hit! Literary Snobs are not.

Many many years ago, when I was a young man in military service in the Far East, I discovered writers and novels that were unknown to me and (I assume) to my high school English teachers as well.
In a quonset hut library, I found the novels of Thomas Wolfe.  In fact, I thought I had discovered a great but unknown writer until a fellow service member disabused me of that.  Seems the rest of the world had heard about him.
I also read the novels of Frederick Manfred, Vardis Fisher, and Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner.  Another favorite was Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, a connected series of short stories of the interior life of people, most of whom were emotional cripples.  Anderson called them 'grotesques'.
I couldn't wait to return to the states and access the libraries and journals and find out more about these writers.
What a shock to discover that these literary giants were more or less regarded either as serious disappointments, or second rate authors.
Sherwood Anderson had his "limitations".  Manfred, Fisher, and Stegner were "Western" authors and merely "regionalist" in their efforts.  Thomas Wolfe was a "young man's writer" and simply "a phase".
All of this came out of the coterie of literary movers and shakers who gathered their wool on the East Coast, i.e., New York City.
I particularly remember that Sherwood Anderson's stories were characterized as depictions of small town or rural life and that they lacked serious relevance to the modern character of developing post-World War II American society.
I regarded them as universal stories of feeling human beings.  I felt their relevance would last as long as people walked the earth.
And that is what prompts this post.
Last week I saw a movie called "Grey Gardens".  It starred Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as mother and daughter.  They shared the same name: Edith Bouvier Beale.  They were family relatives, cousins, I believe, of Jacqueline Bouvier.  Grey Gardens was the name of the estate in East Hampton, Long Island, New York where the two Beale women lived.
The ghost of Sherwood Anderson walked through this movie as we followed the lives of two women locked in self-deception and personal failure.  They were people of stature and breeding living on a rich estate in the Hamptons, but could very well have been transported to Winesburg, Ohio to play out the tale of their lives.  The movie confirmed my opinion that Anderson's themes were timeless and universal.
Drew Barrymore, by the way, gives one of the most powerful and haunting performances that I have seen in a long long time.  This actress is a national resource.   That more directors and producers aren't finding roles for her to grow in is a stain on their cognitive abilities.

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