Friday, March 18, 2011

The Graduate - Charles Webb

I picked up this classic several months ago at an antique store. I think I paid $2 for the 1963 hardcover edition. It has an inscription To Susie ~ xmas 1969 ~ From Katie Yeatts. I love inscriptions. Note to self, write shit on the first page of all those books you give as gifts.

So! It's a classic, I think everyone is familiar with the plot either from the book, the film or the Simon & Garfunkel song. No need to dwell on it.

Charles Webb's style is distinctive, very minimalist. Not Hemingway-sparse, but the language isn't flowery and he doesn't waste pages on the touchy-feely bits. In fact the story is told from a 3rd-person objective point of view and the narration only follows our dubious protagonist Benjamin Braddock. The effect, for me at least, lent to the idea that young Ben has no idea what the hell he's doing with his life. He's never able to properly explain himself to anyone and he acts with seeming disregard for, or possibly unawareness of, his relationship to his world.

The cover advertises hilarity, which I think is an overstatement as most of the humor is quite understated. Actually some of it felt really stale, but I imagine it's because it's been frequently copied. Not to spoil the story, but somebody's gonna break up a wedding. It is funny though, and easily worth the short 191 pages that it sets you back. One of my favorite funny things is the fact that months into their affair Braddock is still addressing to his lover as Mrs. Robinson. Hee.

The theme though is a bit dark in a quaint "what does it all mean" way, which I'm inclined to appreciate. The characters all seem weighed down by their upper middle class lifestyles and intellectual boredom, but that stiffness in no way drags on the story. I also like Webb's resistance to judging his characters for their actions. Though he certainly suffers the inevitable consequences of his decisions, Braddock is never written off as a villain or a boy in need of saving. He just is who he is.

On a slightly different note, I'm finding that a lot of "modern literature" is starting to feel really dated to me. Benji Braddock watches TV until the stations stop broadcasting. Anything that happened before the invention of infomercials seems like it would have little bearing on my life.


miranda. said...

Have you seen "Definitely, Maybe"? There is a whole subplot about one of the main characters buying every used copy of Jane Eyre that has an inscription. I'd explain why but that would give away part of the movie. Go Netflix it.

Abby-Wan Kenobi said...

Please, not only have I seen "Definitely, Maybe", I own it. I love the whole Jane Eyre plotline and if it didn't involve the whole tragic background I'd wish I had my own collection of books with inscriptions. It's the coolest collection ever.