Monday, April 24, 2006

Martin Dressler (by Stephen Millhauser)

I finally got to read a new book! I've been re-reading The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, and Their Eyes Were Watching God because I'm teaching a novels class, and of course I've been re-reading the novels as I've been preparing to teach them. The next book on the syllabus is Martin Dressler and it was one I hadn't read yet. (This was a class I took over, not one I designed. Hence the eleventh-hour nature of all this reading.)

You know why my reading project rocks? Well first of all, because having read every single one of Fitzgerald's novels made my Gatsby teaching better. And secondly, because Martin Dressler is the version of An American Tragedy that I was wishing for, and I'd never have known that had I not been "forced" to read An American Tragedy. Martin even starts out as a bellhop! I should mention that it's set in the 19th century, but the book was written in 1997.

One of the things I've been thinking about is that despite the convincing period setting, it's really a very modern story. Emmeline, for one thing, is an extraordinarily modern character. And the ambiguity of the ending, the novel's loose ends, the surrealism: all extremely modern. One question I'm going to ask my students to keep in mind is just that: how is this a modern novel?

Anyway, I really liked it. Maybe once I do all the critical research, I'll have more to say. But for now, I highly recommend it.