Two Amusing Moments

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from Isn't it Romantic
Ron Hansen

Sighing, Madame agreed, in the grudging way of one who thought some people would garden in basements if you let them. . . .

She shook her head and said she would like to tour America on an overland route from the East Coast to the West.

Madame Dubray held her face carefully fixed as she asked, "How?"

Natalie felt unfairly tested. "Railway?"

Madame smirked, "Railway," she said, "In America."

"Or perhaps I could rent an automobile."

Madame scoffed, "Aren't you the audacious one? Motoring through all forty states."

"There are fifty."

"Well, not worth seeing," said Madame.

Mr. Hansen has taken the somewhat pretentious track of Graham Greene before him deliberately labeling this confection An Entertainment, as though one would be incapable of figuring it out for oneself. Moreover, what is he trying to protect, this author of Hitler's Niece (atrocious in almost every way) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford entertaining but idiosyncratic in its "nouning the verb." (He socked his feet. . ."

Just right, we can figure out on our own what we would like to take seriously and what we would not care to. I've never understood the autoclassification of works into those of major and minor importance. It didn't work with Greene, who is arguably a better writer, and it doesn't work here. But the book looks to be entertaining.

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Of all of Ron Hansen's books, the one I'd really be interested in your opinion of is this one:

I see that the link is a dead one. It was meant to take one to the entry on for Ron Hansen's novel, "Mariette in Ecstasy" which deals very directly with things Catholic.

Dear Rob,

The link worked when I tried it.

I was surprised to discover that I've never done a full formal review of Mariette in Ecstasy possibly because it was before I started blogging.

I couldn't possibly undertake to do so without reviewing the book, but my recollection was that it was filled with splendid prose and imagery and a compelling and interesting and human story. I liked it better than I did Atticus, but not much, much better, only just.

Not much of a review, I know, but I can't possibly treat it fairly with this much time between me and my reading of it.



I'm afraid that I found Atticus obvious and undramatic. Mariette is a master piece in the guild sense: it's a tour de force of everything he learned from others (especially Bernanos) and a great sign of his own talent.

The Assassignation... is the most ambitious work that I've read of Hansen's so far: an attempt to read the life of Jesse James through the lens of Christ. It's a spectacular failure, however: confused and bloated. And yet Hansen's own voice and sensibility are quite powerful.

Although I haven't read any Hansen since Atticus, I highly recommend his book of stories: Nebraska. There, you'll find a full range of his interests and themes.

Thanks for the suggestion of "Nebraska". I think that I've read all the novels, except "Isn't It Romantic", but I hadn't gotten around to those stories yet. What a good idea.

Dear Rob,

Fred recommended Nebraska, a recommendation I concur with. I also liked Desperadoes better than I did the book on James.

Atticus is, I suppose obvious, but given that it is a retelling of the prodigal son, it's hardly surprising that it would be, and it is in a voice quite different in many ways from the other works. I liked Atticus more than Fred did.

The only one I was a little put off by (frankly, nearly nauseated by) was Hitler's Niece which I found revolting in the particulars and it left me feeling as though I badly needed to shower--for a very long time.



I don't remember my reaction to Hitler's Niece being quite that visceral. But I guess that's to be expected. I also liked Atticus. But, to me, Mariette in Ecstasy is his best work. It doesn't suffer from the overwriting that flaws the Jesse James book (which is brilliant in places) and Mariette caused me to consider things that I had not previously thought about.

Dear Rob,

I agree. Of the works, Mariette in Ecstasy stands out. The three early works Nebraska, Desperadoes (the Dalton Gang) and Jesse James suffer a bit from him coming into his voice. Nebraska less so than the others because of the Short Story format and the diversity of material.

Interestingly he returns to Nebraska in Isn't It Romantic?.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 4, 2006 7:21 AM.

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