book review, play, reading recommendations

Review: Death of a Salesman

A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man

Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller

9780141182742

This is probably my favorite play of all time, just a warning! There will be considerable gushing for this particular work.

AUTHOR: Arthur Miller

GENRE: Drama, Tragedy

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: school library

SUMMARY: Willy Loman is a less-than-mediocre salesman that seems utterly incapable of coming to terms with his own mediocrity and average state and with the lack of conventional success in his two sons’ lives, Biff and Happy. It is revealed in the play that Willy had always imagined that his two sons would experience great success, as Biff was the quarterback of the football team and was predicted to go to college on a football scholarship. Their neighbor, Bernard, is a smart kid who had constantly reminded Biff to study so as not to fail his high school classes. It is also apparent to the audience that Biff as a kid was a bully, full of himself, irresponsible, and a troublemaker. Willy is as blind to his son’s flaws at that time as he is in the present, and Biff and Happy strive to prove to their father that they will lead ordinary lives. Their mother, Linda, pushes them to make their father happy by pursuing prospects that do not really exist and careers that ultimately would not make them happy. Willy refuses to listen to his kids’ protests, and his children desperately try to play in his fantasy world while Linda moderates, but eventually all of these tensions come to a boiling point and a climax that the family cannot ultimately return from.

RATING: 5/5 stars

THOUGHTS: There are many reasons why this is one of my favorite plays, and one of the reasons is because the theatricality of it is so thought out and employed so well. All of the details and thought put into the stage directions is amazing and helps the reader really envision the work; it is a play that can exist as beautifully on stage as it does on paper. Specifically, the flute music that is supposed to accompany the story and Willy’s memories is one of my favorites details, and Miller’s details concerning how the house is supposed to be set up embody the feeling of the story so perfectly.

This is also a story about the American Dream, but not in the way that more classical works like The Great Gatsby address the materialism accompanied with the American Dream. One would think that Willy’s son Biff was the perfect high-school hero, as a popular kid and the star of the football team. However, his future did not pan out as well as Willy might have hoped it would, and this mostly resulted from the character flaws of Biff and from some of Willy’s. Instead, the expectations for a standard American life and the entitlement that can sometimes embody American culture are the subjects of this show, and I think it only reveals why idealizing anyone else’s idea of the perfect life can be so damaging and demoralizing.

Willy Loman is the epitome of a tragic hero, and it is unclear what exactly, in medical and psychological terms, what it was that he was afflicted with. There is no need to really know what could possibly be affecting Willy’s mental and emotional state, because it is family expectations and an idealized world that ultimately would be his downfall, and he pushed these things that poisoned his life onto his sons, continuing the cycle of abuse. He has no consciousness that these are his weaknesses though, except maybe at the end, and this makes him a fascinating character that I love to investigate over and over again.

This is a simple family drama but it is ultimately a reflection on American culture, and it is almost certain that everyone has something to draw from the story. I think that is what makes it timeless to me, that as a high schooler in 2016, I could still relate to the character of Willy Loman from decades ago. He only ever strived to be a great man and not just another chip off the block, and I believe that a lot of us strive to be one of the “greats” when the reality is, that most of us are the flecks of dust and not the flecks of gold. However, this can be embraced in its own way and has its own beauty, a message that Willy Loman never learned but one that perhaps Arthur Miller did and was trying to convey through this work.

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book review, play

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

To suffer is as human to breathe.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Throne and John Tiffany

harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child

Click the above image to purchase the book on Amazon.

I know I am way past the trend, and to be fair, I did try and read this when it first came out. I just never really engaged in it enough last year, but I have finally made my way through it.

AUTHOR: Jack Throne and John Tiffany; based off of J.K. Rowling’s work

GENRE: Drama, Fantasy

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: Amazon

RATING: 2.5/5 stars.

SUMMARY: Albus Severus Potter, the middle child of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, struggles with fitting in at Hogwarts. He becomes somewhat of a social outcast because he was a Potter that was sorted into the Slytherin House. He quickly befriends Scorpius Malfoy, who is also a social outcast because there are rumors that he is not really Draco’s son but rather the heir of Voldemort. Albus is unsettled, and hates Hogwarts, and hates being Harry Potter’s son. When Albus meets a woman that claims to be the cousin of Cedric Diggory, he and Scorpius are pulled into an opportunity to prove themselves to their fathers and to their peers at Hogwarts. However, they are really entering into a complex situation that may alter the course of wizarding history.

THOUGHTS: Okay, so, I did not hate this play as much as a lot of other people. However, I found it to be written as more of a fanfiction than an official installment in the Harry Potter series. My issue with the book is not that it wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, nor was it the fact that there were less “magic” tricks in the book. It’s just that I didn’t find the story believable.

I don’t know if I buy Albus’ motivations; I get that he wanted to fix one of his father’s mistakes and somehow differentiate himself from the legacy that he had inherited, but I do not know if those are sufficient for him to buy the whims of a girl that he barely knows. There are other aspects of the plot that I will not go into (cause spoilers) that I didn’t find believable: there were genuinely nice characters that got turned into Death Eaters because of humiliation (there has to be a darker reason within someone to join the Dark Side…right?), there were endgame romances split apart because of simple changes, and somehow Hermoine was the Minister for Magic- an amazingly brilliant character who I adore but has never been that charismatic nor great with people as a politician? What?

Additionally, I think there is a lot more value in the character of Ronald Weasley than just as the comic relief. I wish the play had done him more justice.

But enough- I am not here to bash the book completely, but nor am I here to lie and sing its praises. I am aware that this is only a script that I have read, and that watching the play must be a different experience, and I am sure it is more enjoyable as a show. There are genuine parts of the script that I enjoyed, such as Harry struggling with parenting techniques, the angsty teen emotions that always populated the world of Harry Potter, the genuine moments of despair as the adult characters have to come to terms with their actions- past and present. There are the same kinds of soaring inspiration and life lessons that always permeated the Wizarding World present in the script. The play beckons the same kind of humanity that the Harry Potter series has always strived to present, and I believe that alone is the play’s redeeming quality.

It is also a nice reminder that just because Voldemort had vanished from the world of Harry Potter, it did not mean that there was no more dark magic to be fought, and no more life struggles to be had.

Although there are a lot of things I question about this script, nevertheless it was nice to sink back into a world that I had grown up with and is so familiar to me. It was nice to see adult Harry as the same, troubled person he had always been. It was a nice escape, and I think all Harry Potter fans should give this book a chance and develop their own opinions about it, while keeping in mind that when it comes to Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling will always reign supreme.

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book review, play, reread

Reread: The Glass Menagerie


AUTHOR: Tennessee Williams

GENRE: tragedy, drama

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: from the lovely people at my local Half Price Books! It is obviously used and has since had tea spilled on it, writings scribbled in its margins, and its cover torn. 😦

WHY DID I (RE)READ IT: for English class

RATING: 5/5 stars

THOUGHTS: I was quite excited when I looked at the syllabus for my English class and I saw that I would have the opportunity to read The Glass Menagerie. First of all, I love Tennessee Williams and I strive to read more of his works. And second of all, it is the kind of play that you can read again and again and still get something new from it each time.

This is the story of the Wingfields, a family struggling to get along in New York City. There are three main characters, each caught up in their own world of dreams, fantasies, and illusions. It is set in the middle of the Great Depression, a time when the American middle class was completely stagnant. The feeling of being trapped is also pretty relevant throughout the play.

 

I adore Menagerie not just because it is riddled with poetic devices and creative license, not just because it is experimental and avant garde, but because of the attention to detail that the playwright gives to this play, especially in the stage directions. I felt as though if you watched this play only, you would miss some of it because the stage directions tat Williams gives are detailed and adds layers to the story beyond the dialogue, which is a weird twist but not an unwelcome one.

In sum, if you enjoy well written drama, the combining of forms (play, poems, short story even?), and can appreciate the art and methodology that goes into creating a story, this is a must-read for you.

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