Friday, November 19, 2010

A Curtain of Green

Day 284 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Jon Stewart is reading All the Devils are Here, by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, and we all know why.  As the subtitle announces, it details The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis and exposes the bad guys, who, according to Nocera in the Daily Show interview, still don't think they did anything wrong and blame it all on people who couldn't pay their mortgages.

You can find that episode and the extended interview, which made the authors late for their own book party, at Comedy Central, and you can find reviews out the wazoo.  What I'll riff on today is the epigraph that gives the book its title, "Hell is empty, and all the devils are here," which is not only an album by a heavy metal band, as I just learned from Wikipedia, but a line from Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, which I heard again this summer in the Illinois Shakespeare Festival production.

Ariel says it to Prospero, reporting on the storm and shipwreck that has just deposited on the island the very men who wronged Prospero in the past and on whom he might wish for revenge...but interestingly Ariel is quoting Ferdinand, the King's son, an innocent, horrified by it all.  And, since it won't spoil things to say so, revenge is not what happens.  There is forgiveness, love, and marriage; there is resumed responsibility to the human community.  There is a decision to leave off the magic that can rouse such a storm.  In Shakespeare's plays, everybody gets to learn something.

One hopes we learn something from the financial crisis, but we've been here before.  McLean and Nocera say the business world is already at it again, creating new "financial products," and starting up the money-and-power-greed machine.  Anyone who's read The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, or seen the fabulous mini-series, knows that's still the way we live now.

Still riffing.  But wait!  What about Eudora Welty and A Curtain of Green?  I'm getting there.  And I'm just now getting to the end of Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers.  **pause to finish Epilogue**  Whew.  In this book, Meyers warns about the Gospel of Prosperity, that religion of transaction that's apparently still rampant in the land.  We've been there, too--televangelists and popular preachers taking your money, themselves "prospering" and/or telling you that God wants you to have yours.  That if you believe the right things, success will come your way.

"Success," said Martin Buber (quoted in Meyers) "is not one of the names of God."

Shouldn't we know that by now?  From life, and from books?! Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis, exposes a con man who's selling religion as a commodity.  Another customer in the store yesterday--and this is one of those times when it's a wonderful irony to work in a shop called Babbitt's Books--said, "Elmer Gantry is such a good book!"

But what he was walking out with, and what he's reading now, is the Selected Stories of Eudora Welty, containing A Curtain of Green and The Wide Net.  I happen to have the Modern Library edition of this, green hardcover, and it's got the real green world in it, not the facade of green that businesses like BP use to get you to buy their...gas.  No, not that gassy curtain of green, that cascade-of-money green.

Of A Curtain of Green, the New York Times reviewer Marianne Hauser said, back in November 1941, "Many of the stories are dark, weird and often unspeakably sad in mood, yet there is no trace of personal frustration in them, neither harshness nor sentimental resignation; but an alert, constant awareness of life as a whole, and that profound, intuitive understanding of life which enables the artist to accept it."  Welty shows you the world.  She doesn't judge it, but she loves it.  "On each page one senses the author's fanatic love of people."

This reviewer, who "feel[s] certain that her stories will live for a long time," also notes that they are cut out of time, and could happen anywhere.  "There are no wars going on behind the scenes, no revolutions or headline-disasters. The tragedies which Miss Welty invokes occur in the backyards of life."  They are occurring there now, too.  There are wars going on; there are headline-disasters; but people who couldn't pay their mortgages are having a hard time, people who lost their jobs are having a hard time, and people are still making it through in their quiet or desperate suffering, even if they lost their back yards.

Robin Meyers would say, "Help them."

Eudora Welty would say, "Love them."

According to McLean and Nocera, Wall Street would say, "F*!$ them."  And did.

***

And to carry on from yesterday, because "What is Reading, But Silent Conversation?", I will send you off to Drew Moody's Pulitzer blog, which invites you to a reading conversation!

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