author C.C.Cole's blog

Saturday, November 9, 2013

On the Confederacy of Genius

When I do interviews about being an author, the often-asked question is “What is your favorite novel?”  That’s always a tough question to answer, and for me, I’m inspired by almost all fiction and non-fiction when it comes to my writing.  Films inspire me as well, with the many years of migraine headaches had me looking at a screen less stressful then reading words in books, so for many years, I didn’t read many books. 

I come from a family of educators from my mother’s side of the family, and my aunt, her sister, now a retired high school history teacher, is well known to us for being well read and never reading fiction.  But I remember her telling me in the early 80s about the book “A Confederacy of Dunces.”  She told me to make sure I read it, and guaranteed it would have my side aching with laughter. 

Impressed with this recommendation from a family member that reads only historic texts and made this novel an exception, back then I went with her recommendation.  I didn’t laugh as I read.  I didn’t giggle.  I threw the book down, laughing uncontrollably with tears running down my face, only to pick it up again to start the second chapter.  When I met my future husband, our early relationship wasn’t hurt by me seeing a copy of this one-of-a-kind novel proudly displayed with his hardback copies of “Lord of the Rings.” 

To summarize the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, published and rewarded following the tragic suicide of author John Kennedy Toole (see the forward by Walker Percy), the lead character Ignatius Reilly begins the story standing on Canal Street in New Orleans, obese, dressed in out-of-season bizarre clothing, looking for distaste in others.  From there, a large cast of characters are introduced while the reader laughs through the pages, finding out in the end how and why each character has an important but hilarious role in the story. 

When I think about “A Confederacy of Dunces” I get angry with myself about forgetting to mention it in more interviews.  For a novel so “unforgettable” how can one forget it?  I think it’s because there’s nothing like it out there.  I lived in the New Orleans area for a while and can connect Toole’s descriptions with the housing and the details of the city still present today.  In checking about films based upon this outstanding work, like so many originals, Hollywood isn’t ready to take the leap of faith to make a film from it.  As I think about it, while it’s disappointing the film industry hasn’t tried, but with this level of masterpiece the translation into film would be a most difficult task.

Readers of all genres, if you haven’t read “A Confederacy of Dunces” I highly recommend that you check this out.  I haven’t met anyone that didn’t like it yet, though naysayers are everywhere.  In thinking of the author Toole committing suicide because no one would publish his work, I think now he would like to see laughter from his work than the sadness it came from.  Meet Ignatius Reilly, the zany cast of characters, and as they say in New Orleans, “Let the Good Times Roll.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On “Step Back” Stories

"The Exorcist"

Growing up in rural poverty gave me few advantages, but one of them was when my mother decided to end the disaster she and her daughters were headed for and went back to college while I was in upper grade school.  From then on she emphasized reading as much as possible, and would bring home books for me to read from astronomy to gothic cathedrals. 

My mother also tended to let me read bestselling novels before I was a teenager.  I’ve written before that I learned a bit too much by reading bestsellers so young, as ill language uttered by me clueless to its meaning left a couple of forgettable public moments.  But overall, I learned more good than bad, and Mom often would review some of the books’ contents, especially if it were considered to be controversial.

Needless to say, my favorite book at the time was “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty.  Years passed before I ever saw the film since I was much too young when it came out and no one that would take kids to films would take us to that one.  To me, reading the book was like knowing a secret the other kids didn’t.  I was too young to really absorb the dark messages of the novel, so I read aloud most of the icky vomit effects to my sister and whispered the disturbing religious parts that were “a bad thing.”

As adult, I now enjoy this horror film now considered a classic, not only for the disturbing religious story, but also for the message that screams through louder than all of the demons do at once while trapped in young Regan’s body.  By the end of the film, I see the point is not about the girl, not about the demonic possession, but it’s about the young priest that had lost his faith.  This point shines as the elder priest had the faith, but not the physical ability to battle the demons, but the younger priest had only himself, and found redemption in the end by giving himself to possession and saving the girl by destroying himself.

I think of stories like this as “step back” stories, because to get the message one has to look beyond the intensity to see the big picture the writer is giving us.  Sometimes with so much emotional and dramatic detail, it’s easy to get lost, but when we see the message ring clear, it remains with us forever, as great stories do.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On Our Lifetime Revolution

"Revolutionary Road"

I’ve blogged in the past about the famous “Blame it on the ‘burbs” novel “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates.  Published in the early 1960s, it captured the constricted lives of American families living in the 1950s post WWII era, with emphasis placed on family, safe neighborhoods, and the husband supporting the household while the wife remained home and raised the children.  In the novel, as well as the film, the tragic ending turns many off, and I admit it takes another look to appreciate the very strong message that Yates gave us in his novel.

For a brief summary, the couple Frank and April Wheeler lives in these traditional middle class conditions with two children, and she gets an idea to move to Paris to live.  They have a history of believing they were special, with some destination to greater achievements than their middle class peers.  Frank goes along with it to calm his wife’s raging temper, but doubts escalate with a job promotion and come to a head when April becomes unexpectedly pregnant.  As their marriage falls apart, with Frank unable to deal with April’s temper, and April realizing Frank had no more aspiring ambition other than suburban life, the story ends in tragedy when she attempts to abort her pregnancy.

First, critics still applaud Yates as a writer that had the nerve not to “rescue” his characters.  In the film, “Titanic” fans of the Winslet/DiCaprio couple saw a let down of the opposite of forbidden love in “Revolutionary Road.” To me, DiCaprio gave one of his best dramatic performances since “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” (His best work by far).

Going back to the message left us by Yates, I remember the days when I was finishing college and along with my friends I thought there were better places to be, better people to be with than where I was, in Mississippi.  Our circle spoke often of moving to large cities like New York, Atlanta, or Chicago.  When I graduated from college with a degree as a lab technician, I got a day shift job in Fort Worth Texas by a telephone interview.  When my personal life fell apart, instead of staying home, I moved to the New Orleans area.  I admit my time as a swinging single in a big city was well spent learning a lot about life in general, every night is not a party, bills must be paid, and Mr. Right doesn’t arrive on a white horse.

When I met Mr. Right, I found myself back in my home state of Mississippi, where I least expected it.  Did my dreams come true?  Yes, but not like I actually dreamed them to be, which is what real life is really about.  I hit milestones with marriage, medical training, and the tough realization that I’d never have children.

“Revolutionary Road” tells us that some point in our maturity, we must stop dreaming and accept what we have as our life.  Can we keep dreaming afterwards?  Of course!  Like the Wheelers, we all think we’re special in some way; if we didn’t we’d never do anything at all.  What Yates reminds us is that dreams can make us lose our way and bring destruction the point everything can be lost.