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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Missed opportunity in section 3 of Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry

Janet Frame's debut novel, Owls Do Cry (1957), remains impressive in many ways but she does not do a good job with the section devoted to the youngest of the 4 Withers children, the kid sister Chicks (Theresa, as an adult): this section is almost entirely a "diary" that Chicks keeps about her domestic life and social aspirations, many of them sweetly pathetic: they invite a prominent physician and spouse to dinner and she frets about what music to play - selected Beethoven's 5th - then what to say about it, setting on "fate knocking at the door." Later realizes that to true music afficiandos the 5th is almost a cliche in and of itself. Etc: what to wear, what to serve. We learn in later diary section that the doctor was later arrested for shooting his wife to death, tried, sentenced, hanged - quite a bit of melodrama there, and a diary kept by a person who know little or nothing about the murder is not the way to tell that story, to put it mildly. The importance of the diary for this novel is, first, to establish Chicks as the one "normal" and successful member of the family, to contrast her with her siblings, and to show her deep self-doubt and insecurity, partly because of shame about her family and, second, to build to the drama of brother Toby reading the diary and realizing how his sister - and others - see him. Frame misses the mark here as well, by having Toby burn the diary, crate a little bit of damage in his sister's house, and leave w/out explanation. No confrontation? And his sister never figures out how she "lost" her diary? Opportunity missed. Building now to the last section of the novel, about Daphne, the stand-in for Frame herself, held in a mental institution for years and forbidden to see her family - an incredible travesty and horror, sounding more medieval than 20th century.

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