Monday, April 28, 2008

What a tender thing, then, is a man ...

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever (Harper & Row, 1957; republished Time-Life Books Inc., 1965) 379 pages

What a tender thing, then, is a man. How for all his crotch- hitching and swagger, a whisper can turn his soul into a cinder. The taste of alum in the rind of a grape, the smell of the sea, the heat of the spring sun, berries bitter and sweet, a grain of sand in his teeth - all of that which he meant by life seemed taken away from him.

A ruined upper middle class WASP family in post war America appeals to me like the decayed ruins of an exotic and unknown culture might to another reader.

Cheever, perhaps more than other American writers has been its chronicler; hence, the description "Chekhov of the suburbs". More than anything this book seems to me to be about the faltering and flimsy construction of masculinity in the mid 20th c.

Three men of old New England stock, Leander Wapshot and his two sons Coverly and Moses Wapshot, make their way in the world. Leander, a sea captain, older, dissolute, still clinging to past familial glories in a Massachusetts fishing village drives his boat the S.S. Topaze for a meager pittance. The boat is capriciously on loan to him by cousin Honora Wapshot, slightly senile and prone to vindictiveness when crossed, who holds the purse strings to the family fortune such as it is.

Honora has high expectations for the two Wapshot heirs, Coverly and Moses, who must marry and reproduce on pain of disinheritance. When she inadvertently catches one of them making love to a girl he is banished and forced to make his way in the world. The other son follows suit. Moses lands in Washington and Coverly in New York.

Desire propels these three men, father and sons, into amorous but perilous situations. Leander, in his youth, is blackmailed into marrying a pregnant teen despoiled by his lecherous, conniving employer only to see the child taken away and his new bride take her life in despair.

All sexual acts and attractions lead to tragedy or dead ends ("Lechery sat like worry on his thin face") rather than happiness and fulfillment. The book is filled with so much male rage against women that it boggles the mind. Women deceive, manipulate, and control the destinies of their hapless men and relations. One has to wonder what prompts this rage.

Leander, after crashing and ruining the S.S. Topaze, faces the horrifying prospect of having his wife Sarah turn it into a floating gift shoppe. Emasculating (which is a word that Cheever explicitly uses in the novel in this context) doesn't even begin to express the the effect upon Leander.

Moses, after a series of missteps, marries Melissa, the ward of an eccentric near relation Justina Wapshot who controls both of their fates with her wealth and hatred of the male sex. Wicked, controlling Justina, whose idea of a wedding gift is two single beds.

Coverly marries Betsey, a sweet but neurotic girl, and moves to a suburb outside of New York where he works as a Taper (he works in the Taping Dept. for the military). Cheever captures the sterility and boredom of suburban life and the hidden, unspoken of dramas when the lonely Betsey tries to make friends with another couple with almost near disasterous consequences.

It is always unwise to read too much autobiographical detail into a writer's work; however, the character of Coverly with his ambivalent sexual feelings towards men does seem to reflect Cheever's own, now widely known, conflicted bisexuality. Start with the section that begins: "And now we come to the homosexual part of the story ...." for further elucidation.

The book is beautiful in many ways, eloquently painting male ardor, sexual yearning and fascination with the mystery of femaleness ("desire seemed to darken and gild her figure like the cumulative coats of varnish on an old painting"). He paints small town life prettily ("The old clubhouse that looked as if it had been put together by old ladies and mice ...") but does not avoid the ugliness that sometimes lies beneath.

True, I could do without the rapturous descriptions of fishing and some of Leander's ruminations in his personal journal but I am happy that I finally picked up one of Cheever's books.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Thing for Bandits

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (Random House, 2001)
369 pp.

In my favourite Japanese restaurant on Baldwin St. over futomaki and tempura, I listen to three surprisingly attractive Star Trek fans rhapsodize over the series (I think to myself still?). Well, we all have our obsessions.

If you have followed this blog at all you will know that I am partial to outlaws; hence, my fascination with Peter Carey's book, a fictionalized autobiographical memoir of the life of Ned Kelly, arguably Australia's most famous "bushranger". The premise is that Ned Kelly is writing this memoir for his young daughter and to clear his name.

(Oh no - the "Star Trek" couple have exchanged gifts - the third wheel has now left - a snowman design on the package she gives him reminds him of a giant sperm "Oh, I'm soooo embarrassed - I had no idea!" she shrieks - clearly these people have not slept together yet. I began this book at Xmas and my reading has been interrupted by book club obligations; hence, the oddity of me starting the post in the winter and posting it in the spring.)

Back to Kelly ... almost 200 pages are devoted to the first 24 years of his life - a reminder that these fellows (vide Salvatore Giuliano in Sicily, Jesse James in the U.S.) start and end their careers at a very young age. Carey works hard at reconstructing Kelly's world - the child of hard scrabble Irish immigrants in Australia with a shiftless father who dies young and an attractive mother who serves as a magnet for every lowlife in the vicinity.

Carey builds a believable world in a semi-literate prose style in which Kelly grows into a determined and violent outlaw. To "save" Ned from the wrath of his new prospective father Bill Frost, his mother "apprentices" Ned to the notorious bushranger Harry Powers (also one of her lovers and a real life figure in Australian history) until he escapes back home. Ned is not welcome there by his "step-father" Frost who sporadically runs away and leaves Ned's mother to cope with a pregnancy and a passel of children on land that needs cultivation and maintenance but receives none from him.

On one of Bill's sprees, Ned follows him, shoots him, and leaves him for dead. This makes him vulnerable to the authorities and his fate is sealed.

As convincing as it is that Carey has done his homework in terms of historical accuracy and lovely fluency in this style of writing, it is not until some 240 pages into it that Ned Kelly truly begins his journey as an outlaw and that is too long a wait to sustain our interest (or at least my interest). And guess what - it does not end well.

Not surprisingly, the way Kelly is portrayed here, Ned is fixated on his mother which lends a disconcerting Oedipal twist to what transpires.

There are also odd bits thrown in which boggle the mind such as a tradition of dressing in women's clothing when protesting the abuse of authority (I think - it was all a bit confusing). Both Ned's father and brother and members of the gang indulge in same. I am unclear if this is a fictional fabrication or whether this has a real historical source.

The similarities between Ned Kelly, Giuliano and James are pronounced and were reinforced in my mind when I read this book.

The men became ensnared in banditry at a young age, usually because of a perceived injustice or slight by the government or police officials. They thrived in rural areas, gaining the trust of the people who strove to protect them from the authorities. They were seen as heroes by many. They passionately tried to defend themselves in the press but were not always granted a forum to do so. Kelly adored his mother (as did Giuliano, James was a devoted husband). All were extremely loyal to family, died violently at a young age, usually at the hands of traitors and were venerated after death.

Today we are not fascianted by those who shot or captured these bandits but the bandits themselves. What does that say about us? About me and my fascination?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bandits de jour

3.10 to Yuma (U.S., 2007) directed by James Mangold

I am developing, oddly enough, a disposition for Westerns, especially the kind of film that turn Westerns on their head. Three-Ten to Yuma was originally a short story written by Elmore Leonard in 1953 and then made into a film in 1957 by Delmer Daves with Glenn Ford; it was re-made in 2007 by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted, Copland). Set shortly after the Civil War, it appeals to those of us with a weakness for bandits (and Russell Crowe).

What is it about the nature of storytelling and humanity that we feel compelled to paint bandits into something more honorable than what they probably are or ever were? I see the same tendency here as I do in my own writing about the bandit Salvatore Giuliano in Sicily, or fiction about the outlaw Jesse James in America or the bushranger Ned Kelly in Australia. All three of whom I have read about, thought about, seen films about, written about.

Dan Evans (played by the talented Christian Bale), is a struggling and honest rancher with two sons and a pretty wife (Gretchen Mol), who was seriously wounded in the Civil War, and who gets unwittingly embroiled in the capture of the bandit Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). Evans is a hero in the tradition of Gary Cooper in the 1952 classic High Noon; he is seen as weak and flawed but righteous, and who triumphs morally in the end with a little help.

Ben Wade, the charismatic and extremely dangerous leader of a band that has committed 22 stage coach robberies and stolen $400,000, not to mention murdered a number of men in the process, is captured in Bisbee, Arizona (a real town, and in a later Elmore Leonard novel LA Confidential, Lynn Bracken, a Veronica Lake look-a-like beauty originates from Bisbee).

Dan Evans, whose horses were stolen by Ben Wade and his gang, stumbles on to the capture of Wade by bounty hunters and marshals and then volunteers to assist in having Wade transported back to prison for $200. Dan's son, the teenaged William (played with cocky self-assurance by Logan Lerman), has a great deal of contempt for his father Dan whom he perceives to be ineffectual. He persuades the men that he should come along.

They are heading for Contention city which has a train at 3.10 that will go to the Yuma prison, a real prison in Arizona operating from 1876-1909. Wade is to be hanged. The marshals send a coach decoy in the opposite direction with someone dressed as Wade. Wade's minion and second in command, the sociopathic Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), who is possibly more vicious than Wade himself, sets fire to the coach and the unfortunate man bearing Wade's distinctive hat as the decoy, after forcing him to reveal where Wade is really heading.

You may remember the actor Ben Foster from his role as the frightening junkie, wannabe Nazi thug in Alpha Dog (2006) whose younger brother is kidnapped then killed by a strung out teenagers who are trying to extract a ransom from him. He plays a comparable role here: volatile, dangerous, possibly insane.

Ben Wade, slippery and charismatic as only Crowe can be, manages to seduce most women in his path, stabs a sleeping man in the throat with a fork while handcuffed, and creates a great deal of havoc while being transported. He escapes more than once and this leads to the death of a number of men, of varying moral integrity.

The story is rife with a number of individuals of varying morality, some "good" (marshals, bounty hunters) and some bad (Wade's band led by Charlie Prince, and other men simply with a desire to kill Wade or law enforcement officials for their own profit). Because this is Elmore Leonard, the good are not merely "good" nor are the bad merely "bad".

Conversely, the "heroic" rancher Dan Evans is seen as weak, though essentially honorable, and victimized by larger forces which make it difficult for him to sustain his ranch and therefore his family. The bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda), a self-avowed devout Christian, pursues criminals for a living yet, we are told, has gunned down dozens of defenseless Apache Indian women and children and then thrown them into a pit presumably for the crime of being Indian. The marshals in Contention city abandon Dan Evans at a crucial moment when they see that they are outnumbered by the bad guys.

Ben Wade, killer, thief and gang leader, is sensitive enough that sketches birds and naked women whom he has easily seduced but is decent enough to return horses that he has stolen from Dan Evans. He also extends a service to Dan so that he will not be humiliated in front of his son.

Evans and Wade, with a whole lot of law enforcement, end up in a hotel room in Contention city waiting for the 3.10 to Yuma. Wade's posse enters the town and you can imagine the end when Wade's posse bribes the townspeople to shoot any, or all, of the officers who subsequently flee. I won't spoil the ending but it is shocking and very affecting.

Best line of the film: after Ben Wade kills a man for insulting his mother, he says, "Even bad men love their mamas".

Second best line from minion Charlie Prince:
"Is that a posse ya got there?" "Yep," the men respond. He shoots the men one by one. "I hate posses," he sighs resignedly.

Ain't that the truth ...

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Various Lives of Florence Broadhurst

Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives by Helen O'Neill (Chronicle Books, 2006) 230 pages

Thanks to my partner R for bringing this book to my attention regarding the bizarre and highly entertaining life of Florence Broadhurst (1899 - 1977), an Australian born designer of wallpaper (who knew such things were "designed"? I plead my ignorance).

The writing in the book is, admittedly, awful riddled with cliches and uninspired writing ("evil Nazis"? "nightmarish horror"?). But the book is absolutely beautiful - resplendent with samples of some of the hundreds of really lovely wallpaper samples she produced and photographs from Broadhurst's exotic past.

But who was this mysterious, strange woman who assumed many guises during the course of her long life? She started as Bobby Broadhurst, a vaudeville vamp, touring the Orient in the 1920s; became a Parisian couturier by the name of Madame Pellier in the 1930s; moved to England and married an Englishman and then back to Australia in the 1940s to paint landscapes.

She stayed in Australia and, by chance, assumed the business operations of a young man who owed her back rent. He was involved in the design of wallpapers. She then began another career and became internationally famous for it employing a team of young designers who some say created all of her work which she took credit for.

She continued well into her 70s until she was murdered in her studio by an unknown assailant. There was some conjecture that she was murdered by John Wayne Glover, the "Granny killer", a serial killer who preyed on elderly women although it was never proven. He died in prison on another offense.

It's a very different sort of biography but worth a look at her designs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Black, Bad and After the American Dream

American Gangster (U.S., 2007) directed by Ridley Scott

Frank Lucas loved his mother and his family. He was highly intelligent, disciplined, had a strong work ethic, dressed elegantly and was meticulous and careful in his personal style and business dealings. The real life Frank Lucas was all of these things as well as a ruthless drug kingpin who murdered effortlessly and became the most successful black gangster of his era in the 70s. Who else could play him but Denzel Washington?

After Frank's mentor Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson (Clarence Williams III), an extremely successful drug lord, unexpectedly dies, Frank, who had served as his driver and sometime executioner, decides to take over his illegal drug business. Frank creates a sprawling, efficiently run drug empire. With the collusion of military officials in Vietnam he begins to export heroin directly from Thailand which is uncut, purer, and can be sold cheaper than anything else on the street.

Director Ridley Scott conjures up vivid and convincing scenarios: black Harlem in the 1970s, drugged out military men in sleazy Bangkok nightclubs, down and out New Jersey landscapes, gritty police squadrons filled with disgruntled cops, and, the "Superfly" pimp apparel of these wannabe drug dealers.

Enter New Jersey detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), a scrupulously honest detective whose claim to fame is that he once found $1 million in cash and turned it in much to the chagrin of his partner and his fellow law officers who deemed him a "rat" not to be trusted by other cops. Crowe is surprisingly restrained and even vulnerable here as the ostracized cop. After his partner dies of a drug overdose from "Blue Magic" heroin, Roberts is handpicked to lead a New Jersey drug task force and he sets out to find the source of his partner's demise.

This eventually leads him directly to Frank Lucas who has done so well that he is able to purchase several nightclubs and apartments and has married a Puerto Rican beauty queen. He is able to bring his entire family of five brothers (eventually to be known as the Country Boys in his drug empire) and his mother (Ruby Dee) up from rural North Carolina; he purchases a huge estate for his mother in New Jersey. Denzel is chilling, alternately loving and charming and then a murderous, remorseless sociopath ready to destroy anyone in his path to riches.

In real life, Richie Roberts alleges that Frank Lucas ordered a hit on his own brother when he was disappointed by his brother's failure to do as he had bid.

Lucas was generally conservative in manner and dress (at least as he is depicted in this film) and only on one occasion does he break with this, dressing in an ostentatious chinchilla fur coat and hat while attending the 1971 Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali fight at Madison Square Garden. In the movie, he catches the attention of Richie Roberts who is working undercover and notices not only his flamboyant attire but the fact hat he has superior seating to the local Italian mafia bigwigs. Richie begins to investigate Lucas.

Things begin to unravel for Frank. History and greed begin to pick away at his kingdom.

His corruption of NYC detectives through bribery goes sour when Det. Trupo (played by a very sinister Josh Brolin) tries to shake down Lucas for additional bribe money prompting a vendetta between the men with Frank destroying Trupo's beloved car and Trupo terrorizing Frank's wife and mother when he destroys his home searching for money. In addition, Trupo vindictively kills a family pet that Frank had inherited from Bumpy. Eventually he tries to kill both Frank and his wife prompting an all out war.

Vietnam ends, the U.S. military leaves the country and, with that, the heroin pipeline from the east into Harlem is jeopardized.

Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a rival drug lord, undermines the purity of Lucas' "product" by diluting it even further.

Through a series of wire taps, Richie is able to launch a massive bust of Frank's various enterprises eventually leading to Frank's arrest. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has trouble initially convincing his superiors of the enormity of the enterprise because they disbelieve that a black man could have orchestrated such a large, all encompassing empire.

Frank and Richie finally meet and an odd collaboration is forged where Lucas rats out the corrupt police officers, mafia figures and drug lords who have colluded in his trade (and have now become Richie's enemies as well). Richie, having passed the bar exam, prosecutes Frank who is sentenced to 70 years in prison but which is commuted to 15 years for his cooperation.

After Lucas' trial, we learn that, surprisingly, the real life Richie served as a defense attorney for Frank. He became a godfather to Frank's son and paid for the boy's schooling at a private Catholic school. Thirty of Frank's relations were sent to prison; his wife leaves him and returns to Puerto Rico, his mother returns to North Carolina without her sons. The film ends with Frank rejoining civilian life in 1991, alone, his empire destroyed and everyone that he cared for gone.

The script by Steven Zaillian is exceptionally well crafted and it is mentioned in a special feature of the DVD that the script had been kicking around for a number of years before the film was made with two unsuccessful attempts to start filming (once by director Antone Fuqua who left the film in 2004). Zaillan is responsible for a number of exceptional films including Gangs of New York (2002) and Schindler's List (1993).

Lucas’ real life (the film is not entirely accurate but seems true to the tenor of his life) was even more complicated than this and worth further examination ... No doubt Frank Lucas was a dangerous and vicious man who deserved what he got and probably more but you also have to wonder if this person had had other opportunities what could he have become? A CEO of a company? A visionary businessman? If only his talents had been directed towards a more productive life instead of the manufacture of a drug that destroyed many lives, most of them black.

It's hard not to glamorize this man when he is being played by Denzel Washington. Even at his most reprehensible, there is a core of integrity that makes us sympathetic to Lucas which I think, in retrospective, was a mistake in the film.

There was an intriguing series of discussions on a radio station which featured the real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts (in two separate interviews). The DJs are stupefyingly dumb in their questioning and they seemed awed by Lucas' exploits rather than horrified but it's worth a listen to the principals involved as well as a look at the BET documentary on Frank Lucas.

Friday, April 4, 2008

No Country for Pretty Much Anyone

No Country for Old Men (U.S., 2007) directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

Based on the Cormac McCarthy book of the same name, this film deservedly won the Oscar for best picture this year and introduced the character of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a new and frightening villain into the zeitgeist.

This is not really a traditional Western nor an action film nor a chase film but an odd hybrid of all three. But it most entertains as a revisionist Western, a subversion of traditional Western films and its archetypes. As the Coens explained it, it involves Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a good man; Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a very bad man; and, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a man in between those two extreme values.

From the opening scene set in West Texas in 1980, when Anton Chigurh, a professional hit man of indeterminate ethnic origin, violently, and emotionlessly, strangles a sheriff's deputy with his own handcuffs you know that you are seeing a new type of villain. Llewelyn Moss unfortunately gets into Chigurh's sight lines when he stumbles across a number of corpses and a dying man begging for water in what is obviously a drug deal gone bad.

Moss finds two million dollars at the scene of the massacre and promptly leaves the dying man there. Later that night he wakes and thinks better of it, returning with water for the man only to be nearly caught by what appear to be Mexican gangsters returning to the scene. This precipitates a wild chase where Bell, the local sheriff, is chasing the professional hit man Chigurh who is chasing Moss and his millions. Chigurh tracks Moss through a hidden radio transponder across Texas.

I will not detail all the ins and outs of the plot which are both mesmerizing and convoluted. It is extremely bloody and oddly beautiful to look at it, clever and satisfying. Far more interesting I think is how the traditional
Western is turned on its head.

The Good Guy is the Primary Focus
Here the good guy is of marginal interest. As Bell hunts for Moss and Chigurh, he is of limited interest to the viewer, far less complex and interesting than the terrifying Chigurh or the morally ambiguous Moss who leaves a man to die and risks the life of his wife in his aim to keep his ill gotten gains. Chigurh is complex, his motives unexplained, his absolute singlemindedness in his "professionalism" is terrifying.

The Good Guy has the strictest moral principles
It ain't necessarily so. Here Chigurh lives by a rigid moral code. He made an offer to Moss to spare his wife if he forfeits the millions, Moss chooses not negotiate and suffers the consequences. True, Chigurh makes these decisions based on the flip of a coin then sticks to his decision ruthlessly.

Women are spared
Women often seem to exist n a separate, inviolable sphere in Westerns (unless being massacred by the ubiquitous Indians in older, more racist Westerns). Here Chigurh offers to spare Moss's wife Carla Jean Moss (Kelly MacDonald) if Moss returns the money, an offer that Moss angrily refuses. Moss gets his as does the dim-witted Carla Jean. No one is spared.

Evil does not triumph
In a traditional Western, the good guy (epitomized in old school Westerns by the White Hat) triumphs; perhaps he falters, perhaps he is weak but in the end he vanquishes evil. Here, Chigurh escapes, wounded and damaged, but lives again, presumably to kill again. Bell seems vanquished by the evil he has seen, broken (hence the title).

I am eager to find out if the book is as good as the film.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Spectator at the Perpetual Orgy

The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and Madame Bovary by Mario Vargas Llosa (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975) 240 pages

The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy. Gustave Flaubert, 1858

When I recently read Llosa's The Bad Girl, I was very disappointed and could not glean why this writer had received such effusive praise from critics and readers alike. Here, in this book length essay on Flaubert and his most famous book Madame Bovary, I finally see the roots of this enthusiasm. He has encapsulated for me why I love Madame Bovary so much, why I am so affected by Emma Bovary the main character and by Flaubert's writing. This is a meticulous chronicle of Llosa's life long passion for Emma. He helped me understand why the book works as a piece of literature, why it is so affecting, why it is so pertinent to modern times.

A Right to Passion
Mario Vargas Llosa states that the story of Emma is that of "a blind, stubborn desperate rebellion against the social violence that stifles [her] right." The right to what? To pleasure, to love, to live passionately, to subvert the rules and the constrictions of her narrow, unhappy life. Is that why it is difficult to hate Emma, despite her wickedness, shallow nature, missteps, catastrophic decisions? Llosa feels that repression of passion has caused as great unhappiness as "economic exploitation, religious sectarianism or the thirst for conquest" and he is likely right.

Emma yearns for beauty as does Llosa. Llosa shares with Emma the qualities of "our incurable materialism, our greater predilection for pleasures of the body rather than the soul, our respect for the senses and instinct, our preference for this earthly life ..."

The commingling of the ugly and the beautiful
Flaubert stated that "It is easier in fact to draw an angel than a woman: the wings hide the hunched back." Llosa says of Flaubert that "the mean and the vulgar impress him because they are true". He has also defined for me why the then modern, realistic and the sometimes shocking style of the book, as it was considered to be then, has created a framework for my own work. Despite his future legal tribulations (after publishing the book, Flaubert and the editors of the Revue de Paris were put on trial because it was considered to be immoral), Flaubert remained convinced that he had chosen a new and revolutionary path. He was writing of the fate of an ordinary woman with astonishing beauty and insight.

Considered "mean and vulgar" by some readers, other artists would soon follow suit in establishing a more realistic style in other disciplines in the latter part of the 19th c.: composers Puccini and Verdi in opera, writers Ibsen and Chekhov in theatre, painter John Singer Sargent in painting. They moved away from stories and plots about gods, aristocrats and mythical beings to the tragedies and struggles of ordinary people, to realistic depictions of common people and to realistic depictions of desire.

There is beauty in strife, in suffering. Perhaps beauty is the wrong word; it is worthy of our examination as writers even if people or things are considered to be "ugly" and "sordid".

A Philosophy of Sex in Fiction
On a related note, Llosa argues for a more frank depiction of sex in fiction saying that "no novel arouses my fervent enthusiasm, holds me spellbound, fulfills me, unless it acts, if only to a slight degree as an erotic stimulant". This issue has intrigued me too: how to write about sex convincingly and not in a titillating fashion but in a realistic fashion? I think that Llosa fails in The Bad Girl but I admire the effort.

Flaubert, inhibited somewhat by the restrictions of the times regarding the depiction of sex, still manages to convey a highly charged erotic environment throughout the book, most notably in the ride that Emma takes with Leon in a fiacre when she tries to break with him in Part III of the novel. It's not graphic in any way but very erotic as the reader sees only the outside of the fiacre as it travels on and on, rocking and never stopping, and we see only Emma's hand as she throws out of the window pieces of a letter she wrote after she tries to breaks with Leon.

Consumption as a substitution for life
For Emma "erotic passion is inextricably bound up with a passion to possess, with a drive to own more and more things. In the novel there is an intimate relationship between love and money." Her illicit activities excite these spending sprees. Or are they merely another means, like her affairs, to disguise her boredom, her dissatisfaction with life? Her "consumption becomes an outlet for anxiety, the attempt to people with objects the emptiness that modern life has made a permanent feature of the existence of the individual". Flaubert captures the malaise of modern capitalist life especially for women of a certain class.

Emma is a "presage of that extraordinary phenomenon of the modern world whereby things, once the servants and instruments of mankind, becomes its masters and destroyers". And Emma is destroyed by her materialistic desires not only her sexual desires; it leads her to debt, the financial ruin of the family and hence her suicide when she is unable to extricate herself from her difficulties.

The alchemy of fact into fiction
Llosa captures for me the process of creating fiction and how one utilizes the personal, the historical, and transforms it into fiction. "Personal experience is a point of departure (the process of gestation); the point of arrival (the finished work) is reached through transmutation of the material". The material is changed no matter how how one attempts to catalogue a "real" event.

The Birth of the Anti-Hero
Emma represents for me a template for rebellion (largely misguided unfortunately) for the modern woman. Emma, influenced by romantic literature and music, wants to "surround her life with pleasing and superfluous things, elegance, refinement, to give concrete form by way of objects to that appetite for beauty that her imagination, her sensibility and reading have aroused in her. Emma wants to know other worlds, other people; she refuses to reconcile herself to the prospect of spending the rest of her days hemmed in by the narrow horizons of Yonville ... Emma's rebellion is born of one conviction, the root of all her acts: I am not resigned to my lot, the dubious compensation of the beyond doesn't matter to me, I want my life to be wholly and completely fulfilled here and now."

Where we part ways
The only place where I differ with Llosa is his assertion that Emma wants to be a man. He cites the many examples (unnoticed by me in my reading of the novel) of her donning male attire or certain male paraphernalia like a pince nez, her "mannishness". Llosa may perhaps be excused for this theory which he expounded more than 30 years ago. This theory, which I have heard many times about certain "wayward" women always puzzles me ... to me, it seems evident that what women want are the privileges and the rights of men, not to physically embody a male body.

Don't we all?