Friday, February 19, 2010

Dorothy Allison's "River of Names" and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"

"River of Names" by Dorothy Allison is just about the most awful story I have ever read. You always hear the stories and jokes about the backwoods rednecks in the south, but I've always thought that those stories were more made up than real. Reading this just shows that its not all made up, and its definitely not very funny. That one family could be so large blows my mind. She claims at one point that there are over 100 children and cousins at one time. That is just ridiculous. No wonder their family had so many problems, they were just breeding like cockroaches under a rock. None of the kids ever really had an identity of their own from the rest of the family. They never had any attention to themselves, because there was probably just another one of them coming along every few months it seemed. Some of the parts almost made me angry to think about. Some of it made me think "how stupid could they be". Its like they just did whatever the first thought in their heads told them to do without even bothering to think of the consequences. And unfortunately for them and the rest of the family, the first thought in most of their heads was usually violent. What kind of inbred idiot would think to light a match and throw it at Butch after he had been huffing gasoline? "I'll teach you" they thought. That's all it took in their family to kill someone. One idiot with a careless thought. And what kind of a father would pick up their young child and use them as a weapon to fend off their other children? Little Bo was brain damaged for the rest of his life because his father was willing to do anything to get away from his other two sons. She talk's about the one time her cousin wanted to wrestle with her and Lucille. And they wouldn't fight back because they knew if they did that one of them would get killed. They would be the product of one more stupid relative that acted without thinking. Equally as sad was that the only alone time they ever seemed to get with an adult from their family was when they were being raped by them.

It was sad and disgusting and tragic and pathetic that it could get that bad. To live in that family would be to constantly live in fear. There are so many of them around, but there were hardly any people you could trust. She mentions toward the beginning of the story that she was born in an age gap in the family. That she was either younger or older than most of her cousins and therefore an outcast. I think this is the key reason she survived. She wasn't as involved as the rest of them. She watched most of it happen rather than being directly involved. Her dark hair is symbolic of the fact that she is different from everyone else. It makes me wonder though whether she would be a lesbian if she had grown up in a different setting. She is obviously afraid to have children for fear that she will ruin their lives like hers were ruined, or for fear that they will somehow turn out like several of her cousins. And I think she just doesn't like men because every time she told a bad story about her family, it always seemed to be a male in the family at the root of the problem. The girls of the family would go suicide, or get hurt, but it was always the males that killed somebody or raped somebody or hurt someone in some way. I think she was just afraid of men and couldn't trust them. That's why she turned lesbian.

Anyway, its unreal to me that so many bad things could happen to one person or one family. That so many rapists, murderers, drug addicts, criminals and genuinely insane or idiotic people could all come from the same family just blows my mind. And of course they came from Greenville.

Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" was a big change from "River of Names". It was about a visit from a blind man. The man had been a long time friend of the narrator's wife, ever since she had worked for him years ago. His wife had just died and he was coming to visit his old friend, the wife of the narrator. The narrator didn't seem to trust the blind man or approve of him most of the story. But before long they were drinking, smoking and watching TV together on the sofa. Then towards the end of the story, the blind man convinces the narrator to draw a cathedral for him while he rested his hand on the narrator's hand. It was so the blind man could know what a cathedral looked like. I thought it was funny how the narrator had this idea in his mind the whole time about blind people. I don't know where he got the idea, but it was funny how he was surprised whenever the blind man did something he didn't think blind people did. And that was quite often. But he didn't like the idea of the blind man that his wife was so close to coming to stay in his house. He didn't like the fact that the blind man knew a lot about him even though they had never met. And I got the feeling that he was jealous of the blind man for some reason, maybe even a little intimidated. I feel like he thought blind people weren't supposed to accomplish much, but here this guy was getting close to his wife and doing things he wasn't supposed to do. After all, you would think that the man who could see was supposed to be the one showing the blind man things, opening the blind man's eyes so to speak. But instead it was the blind man who was changing their lives. He created some kind of unique experience with the wife years earlier when he touched her face, and I got the feeling that the narrator was undergoing some sort of life changing, eye-opening experience when he was drawing the cathedral. Its ironic that the blind man was the one who could create those experiences for them. This was a much better story to read than the first one, though I don't really think I can identify with either of them. Though for better or for worse, both stories were definitely thought provoking and I'm glad I read them.

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