Reviews: ‘Claudine’s Book’ by Harvey Swados and ‘Charles’ by Shirley Jackson

I stopped writing literary reviews for a while. I took down most of the reviews that I had written because I was getting stale. I had difficulty reading. Everything that I read was boring me into a vapid stupor.

Lost days of yesteryear

Do you want people to read your work? Write something real and personal. Don’t write in some genre. Don’t write for an audience. Dig painfully and awkwardly into your soul. Because it is your  very uniqueness makes it new and refreshing.

I found these stories in ‘Man in the Fictional Mode’ of the wonderful Man Literary Series compilations from 1970-71.

The series opened my eyes to the most interesting, quirky, magnificent short stories. It was so much better than the horrific bilge we were required to read in school, like the intelligence-insulting ‘The Outsiders’ the mind-numbing pointless ‘Catcher in the Rye’, the literary bowel movement known as ‘Lord of the Flies’ and the grossly derivative, (ripoff of the vastly superior ‘A Passage to India’), political horse-dung known as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

At any rate, in ‘Charles’ Shirley Jackson is so much more than the macabre. She captures the urban legend of the naughty boy who describes another naughty boy at school who later turns out predictably to be the boy’s alter-ego.

She just tells it better with her rhythmic and hypnotic prose. Her ability to capture these little slice of life vignettes is timeless and almost unparalleled. Her focus on the little things in life instead of the super-action-Hollywood grandiose is so refreshing. She is truly a master of Americana.

If you fancy yourself a writer and if you have any interest in the Americana genre of literature and you have not read Shirley Jackson beyond ‘The Lottery’, shame on you.

Dont read it on a device either, find a compilation of her work in an actual book.

Her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, was a literary critic who focused on understanding the critic’s bias, which he referred to as ‘metaphor’ or the lens through which the critic evaluated an author’s work.

I often talk about my mood or state of mind when I do a critique. Bias is a pejorative word that detracts from the critic’s frame of reference. I don’t use the cheap word ‘bias’, because everyone has biases. It is rendered meaningless by overuse and is an ad hominem attack on the critic. So if you use the word bias, then you can just bugger right off, mate.

‘Claudine’s Book’ by the long forgotten Harvey Swados is a tale of a lonely twelve year-old girl living with her father in a small New England town. She hangs out with a boy through whom she gets a stack of old diary books and fills them with her articulate, expressive writing.

The books get discovered and published by a New York Literary agent. Claudine decides she doesn’t like the publicity, so she falsely hints that her aunt actually inspired, if not wrote them herself. The aunt, the lonely sister of Claudine’s deceased French war bride Mom, is more than happy to take the credit.

Claudine has other plans in life and being known as a writer was not one of them. She is liberated from the burden of the book when she disavows the writing as her own.

The point of the story is that success at something undesired or uninteresting that does not define us, is worse than failure at what we love.

Maybe this is why some people who are so successful at one thing would rather be doing something else.

Peace be the Botendaddy