Book Review: Alison Lurie's winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Foreign Affairs
The pun in Alison Lurie’s title of her 1985 Pulitzer Prize winner, Foreign Affairs, seems acceptable mostly because the rest of the book is restrained and full of insightful, character-driven complexities. For example, “Is Fred Turner likeable?” I mean, he seems like a nice guy, but then, it’s easy to be nice when no one has ever really told you “No.” Also, there’s, “Vinnie Miner is a kleptomaniac.” Yet we seem to be expected to sympathize with her. Is that ok? Perhaps I’m the victim of a gross misreading of the text (a bit like the time I misunderstood the point of The Graduate, thank you 500 Days of Summer), but I think we are supposed to sympathize with Vinnie … and her dog … at least, if we’re not, that’s a lot of pages to dedicate to a character that, well, I mean, is this The House of Yes, here? At least we can say this about Vinnie; she doesn’t seem to steal from friends, just corporations, which, though they can often have a hard row to hoe are at least faceless.
Speaking of faces, I was struck by the similarities between Alison Lurie and the character Vinnie Miner. They share an interest in the teaching and writing of children’s literature as well as being immersed in academia. Considering the kleptomaniac aspect, let’s hope that’s where the similarities stop, but of course that detail offers another chance for an “insightful complexity.” Is my worry that Lurie is a kleptomaniac (and should never visit my home!) because she wrote herself into a kleptomaniac character actually an overinflated concern with dividing fiction from reality? Aren’t all stories fiction on some level? What I mean is that even if Lurie were to write her autobiography we would probably do well to take it with a grain of salt. It’s probably been dramatized. She’s human after all and we all remember things differently than others on a regular basis. Who is to be believed? And do we really want completely believable elements in our stories? Most of our lives probably don’t feel as if they were scripted by Spielberg (though Lurie’s life might feel more that way than others). Often, it’s more like our lives are scripted by Kaufman, and only the first 30 minutes of Adaptation. Yup, the boring part. And yet, if we look closely at our non-Spielberg lives (and the first 30 minutes of Adaptation) I feel certain we can learn something. Or make something up. Novelists have been doing it for years.
Craig B is a thirty-something lover of books, movies, and rock and roll whose grandmother still worries that he might not be eating enough. (Love you, Grandma!) He lives with his charming wife in the small town of Berne, IN (in sight of the clock tower) where he busies himself keeping the Roses of Sharon in check and training his chinchilla in the ancient arts of the Ninja. Craig’s current favorite book is Buddenbrooks
by Thomas Mann.