About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

#74 - Telex from Cuba

This book is one of the reasons I've gotten so behind in my blogging. It took me over a week to slog through Rachel Kushner's Telex from Cuba (Scribner, 2008), and once I finished, I cranked through two others in rapid succession. Granted, part of the delay was due to my having discovered and then overdosed on playing Bejeweled 2 to the exclusion of everything else for a few days ... but part of it was that Telex just didn't really draw me in enough to make me want to read more than a chapter or 2 at a time. The book was fairly well-reviewed in the New York Times, but frankly, a little disappointing.

Don't get me wrong; Kushner's writing is superb. Her descriptions make you feel like you're right there in pre-Castro 1950s Cuba, with all your senses; the book gives you a phenomenal sense of a time and place that few others (at least in the English language) touch upon. The only trouble is that nothing much seems to happen there. The story, if one can call it that, focuses on the American expats who work for the United Fruit company and their families, living lives of privilege amidst servants and tropical flora. It's told primarily from the vantage points of two children: K.C. Stites, rich and privileged even among the American elite, whose white-jacketed, uber-formal Southern father manages United Fruit's Cuban operation; and Everly Lederer, a bookish, upper-middle-class outsider who develops a crush on Haitian houseboy Willy Blousse rather than returning the affections of the far more suitable K.C. Ultimately, the Stiteses, Lederers, and all their neighbors flee to the continental U.S. by way of Guantanamo (no surprise here; we all know which way the Castro revolution ended up at this point).

Until then, though, the book is little but a sketch of the American enclaves in the Cuba of the day. There are a handful of side storylines that I found interesting: Charmaine Mackey's affair with a wealthy Cuban Lothario; Del Stites' typical adolescent rejection of the family he grew up in, and less-than-typical reaction (running away to join Raul Castro's band of rebels in the mountains). Neither of these are sufficiently well-developed to stand as primary plots, though, nor are any of the characters depicted with near as much depth and nuance as the setting. There's also a side storyline about an opportunistic World War II vet and a nightclub dancer that didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the story, and which I found distracting. All in all, the book probably has some literary merit, and may well be a fitting tribute to the author's family (according to the blurb on the dust jacket, Kushner's mother grew up in one of the American enclaves in Cuba in the 1950s). And I didn't find it awful; the setting was novel and vivid enough to hold my interest, at least enough to make me finish the book. Not one I'll reread or recommend, though.

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