Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Love and Learning

It's amazing how babies grow constantly in an almost invisible way. Day to day their changes are very subtle. Then someone sees them after week or month and says "Wow, you've gotten so big!" As a child, I hated when adults told me how much I had grown. Now I say it to NFNF clients and my co-workers children all the time! (I must be getting old.) Just yesterday I was holding a Community Outreach Mom's two-month old, and was excited to see that the little girl could now practice lifting her head off my shoulder.

I've been noticing gradual changes in myself, too. Sometimes it's things I had hoped would happen this year - living on a limited budget and interacting with the poor daily no longer intimidate me. Other times I've changed in ways I never expected.

Just this week I discovered that I no longer revere Evelyn Waugh's novels as I once did. (Nerd alert!) I was introduced to his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited when I was 18 and I've re-read it every year since then.

That same senior year of high school I also dove into Waugh's shorter novella The Loved One. It's a satire of the Hollywood funeral industry, revolving around the love triangle of cosmetician Aimee Thanatougenous, mortician Dr. Joyboy, and British poet Dennis Barlow. Parts are very funny and others are horrifying. Being a romantic high schooler, I was most upset by the fact that there was not a "true love" relationship I could root for. I ended the volume confused, but certain there was some deeper meaning I just couldn't figure out. I never read the book again, testing Waugh's other, more famous works instead.

I finally had the idea to give The Loved One another try after watching this year's Oscars. It's much funnier when you aren't 18. I've realized since high school that satire usually involves death or some such calamity, so you really shouldn't get attatched to the characters or project yourself onto them. And the The Loved One is excellent satire, colorful and clever and dreadful.

Were I still an idealistic 18 year-old, I would write a paper for English class about Waugh uses his literary skill to criticize the American Culture of Death. Ta da! Instant Catholic literary hero. Today, though, I would say that Waugh takes his skill too far, mocking pretty much everyone who isn't an old-fashioned curmudgeon like himself. The novella could really be shorter, and it's dismal conclusion strikes me as one big "Screw You!" to humanity, especially the American part.
There's no love for anyone in the writing, which makes Waugh's cranky voice sound like a clanging cymbal.

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